On Tuesday, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) announced it was postponing the nationwide peaceful march, which was planned to move government to action on the proposed Electoral Reforms Bill. PAC explained they had done so to monitor the situation in Parliament, where the Bills were presented. Our Staff Writer Kondwani Kamiyala wanted to understand the PAC move. He talked to political scientist Happy Kayuni. Excerpts:
PAC postponed the march. What is your take on the issue?
I think PAC’s decision was correct because government had shown that it was responding to the main issue raised by PAC. However, this doesn’t imply that PAC has to sit down and relax. There is need for vigilance and ensure that government fulfils its promises. The inclusion of MPs and Councillors can also be government’s strategy to delay the process. They know MPs will reject it and it may be referred back to the Legal Committee. MEC made it clear that if these bills are not passed in 2017, it will be difficult to implement these bills in the 2019 elections. In this case government may claim that it did its part by tabling the bill and its only MPs who frustrated the process.
Was it right for PAC to call off the demonstrations to monitor the situation in Parliament?
PAC’s main goal was to make sure that government tables the Electoral Reforms Bills and there was evidence that the process had already started hence no credible reason for the demonstration. The second phase was now to monitor developments in Parliament.
PAC laid down other reasons for the demonstrations, is PAC justified to call off the demonstrations when the Electoral Reforms Bills seems to be the only thing sorted out?
Probably the problem will be how the issues were presented initially. Too much emphasis was put on the Electoral Reforms Bills hence not much was said about the other issues. I feel these other issues needed equal emphasis right from the beginning. Changing the goal posts while the game is being played becomes problematic and risks the institution losing credibility in relation to its demands. If there was a lot of emphasis on all issues from the beginning, PAC would be justified not to call of the demonstrations.
Is the PAC action not betrayal of Malawians’ trust in the quasi-religious body?
I don’t think people really feel betrayed with PACs action but obviously it will be problematic to effectively organize the next one because people will be wondering whether it will indeed happen or not.
With previous planned demonstrations that were called off, most people felt betrayed because they believed that demonstration leaders were bribed but this is not the case with PAC. Its credibility remains intact and they made a wise decision to call off the demonstration so that government should also not think that PAC is merely interested in demonstration.
Government brought in MPs and councillors in the 50+1 issue. Was this proper?
Government’s decision to bring in MPs and councilors was not done in good faith. The move is meant to disrupt the whole process. The inclusion of MPs and Councillors in the 50+1 bill is against universal electoral practices and it did not emerge from the Law Commission’s citizen engagement process thus it can’t be justified.
Further, Government brought in the issue of the Recall Provision, was this not blackmail for the MPs?
This is indeed blackmail and every MP should be able to see this. The recall issue was not currently being debated in the country. Why bring it now?
What is the future of the Electoral Reforms Bills now?
My suggestion is that MPs should disregard and reject the clauses which are meant to disrupt the process and focus on the core issues that were recommended by the Law Commission. If MPs focus on the non-essential, we may unlikely see the bill see the light of day for some time. National interests should override selfish narrow political interests.
With the controversial bills being brought in the house a day before Parliament rises, does this necessitate an extension, as propelled by some quarters?
An extension is necessary otherwise we are likely to face more future tensions on the matter.
Are there any other comments?
Malawians should continue to be vigilant and safe guard their hard-worn democracy and PAC is one of the key governance institutions in the country that is helping the nation not to lose direction in this governance path. Government should also not fear such institutions but continue to improve in areas that are deemed problematic. In this way we will continue to enjoy democracy and eventually be an example to others.