It’s not about PAC but democracy

Hon. Folks, electoral reforms are not about the Public Affairs Committee (PAC). They are a pledge by the Executive arm of government. It promised Malawian voters to push enabling a bill or bills to the current sitting of Parliament.

In light of that promise, the media also checked with the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) if there was a chance that laws enacted now could be used for the 2019 elections and the answer was in affirmative.

Now, among other things, many voters expect that in 2019 the first-past-the-post system of electing a president would give way to the 50+1. This does not address the problem of having too much power vested in the President but at least it guarantees the fundamental principle that sovereign authority should only be exercised by a person who has the mandate of the majority of the electorate who actually cast their votes in an election.

The reforms would also allow reasonable time to address queries and grievances before swearing in the victorious presidential candidates. For those of us who woke up one day in May 2014 only to hear that a tearful MEC chair announced the winner of the presidential election around midnight and the swearing would follow almost immediately, we cherish the proposed change if only because it addresses a real post-election threat.

It doesn’t require a discerning eye to see from Kenya (2007 and 2017), Zimbabwe (2008), Cote d’Ivoire (2010-11) and the Gambia (2017) that botched presidential elections can lead to needless loss of life and turn human beings into heartless monsters that have no regard for human life.

By lobbying various stakeholders, including leaders on the ruling and opposition sides, to be change agents and support electoral reforms, PAC is only ensuring that the process of transferring power by democratic means does not derail and turn our beautiful country into another African tragedy.

It’s not PAC but government—precisely Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu—who in June pledged to table the bills on electoral reforms in the November sitting of Parliament.

By such a pledge, Government was in the same breath making a commitment to expedite the various processes involved in preparing bills for tabling in the august House.

APM went to open Parliament, talked about what he believes to be milestones for his government—which, if real, are reasons for him to look to 2019 with confidence—but didn’t say a word on electoral reforms.  They were not on the list of the bills tabled for scrutiny in the House this time either.

It looks like DPP’s humiliating loss to MCP in the October by-elections shook to the chore the party in government. There’s no denying that of all the proposed amendments to the electoral laws, it’s the 50+1 that causes a scare.

There’s no denying the 50+1 system raises the barrier much higher for the incumbent Peter Mutharika who only managed to garner 36.4 percent of the votes in 2014. If it were to apply in 2019, he would require an additional 14.6 percent of the votes. In a re-run, he will have to be smart enough to amass these from voters who initially denied him the vote.

What the 50+1 rule does is to make it hard for a presidential candidate who doesn’t have what it takes to serve those who do not constitute his or her base, to rise on a minority tribal or regional vote.

If chiefs have a problem with that, as suggested by those who petitioned Parliament on Tuesday, then they should be reminded that a president is elected by universal suffrage and the rule is one person one vote—whether that person is a State President or a chief.

What chiefs should not do is demonise PAC, a grouping that took us through the transition to the multiparty system of government when the chiefs were defending one party system to the extent of denying proponents of change burial space at the village graveyard.

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