Government yesterday offered a lukewarm commitment to bringing to Parliament six electoral Bills, among them changing the proposed electoral system from a simple majority to 50-plus-one and that inauguration should be held after 30 days.
The Bills are Constitution (Amendment), Electoral Commission (Amendment), Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections, Assumption of the Office of President (Transitional Arrangement) and Referendum.
Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament chairperson Maxwell Thyolera, who is also Lilongwe North East member of Parliament (MP), demanded government’s commitment using Standing Order 69 which allows a legislator to raise a question on a matter of national importance.
The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) legislator said the Bills proposed by the Special Law Commission on Electoral Reforms were necessary to changing the elections landscape come 2019.
But in his response, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu said the Bills would “most likely” be tabled in the House in November this year.
He said: “I can confirm that the Law Commission completed its work and the report was ready on 25th April. The House should expect the Bills, six of them in total, most likely in November.”
His response elicited fears and allegations from the opposition side of the House that government had no intention to bring the Bills to Parliament.
If tabled in November, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) would not be given enough time to prepare itself administratively for the changes to the electoral processes that might occur once the Bills have been passed.
Thyolera accused the minister of shifting goal posts after he had earlier opposed a Private Member’s Bill on Elections on the basis that government would be bringing Bills to the House on the matter by June.
“Taking into account that the Electoral Commission expressed fears that preparations would be affected if there is a delay in the legislative reforms, I want assurance that the Bills will be tabled as soon as possible,” he said.
But Tembenu did not bulge, insisting that the expression “most likely” could mean before November or after.
He said: “But as far as I am concerned, most likely is November. Nothing more.”
Lilongwe South MP Peter Dimba (MCP) accused government of cheating Malawians that they would bring Bills when they had no intention of doing so.
He asked: “Why should this government run the country through hide and seek and trickery?”
In turn, Tembenu pushed the blame to the Law Commission for allegedly missing deadlines for completion of the electoral reform reviews.
He said the commission missed four deadlines starting in December and only submitted the report in April this year, a development that affected the timing of everything.
It was also Tembenu’s belief that he could not bring the Bills in the current meeting of Parliament because draft Bills would be subjected to the 28-day notice rule when gazetted.
To this, some members were overheard saying “you will waive [standing orders]” and “we are used to waiving”.
But Tembenu said: “They [draft Bills] will still have to go to Cabinet.”
The debate on the matter heated up with Dowa North East legislator Richard Chimwendo Banda (MCP) calling Tembenu “a liar” and Mzimba West MP Harry Mkandawire (People’s Party-PP) threatening “trouble” if the Bills were not tabled immediately.