It is clear this government is not comfortable with all the six Electoral Reform Bills. That is why it has been playing hide and seek. The Bills are the Referendum Bill, which was passed on Wednesday amid reservations from the opposition. If passed into law the Bill will, among other things, give the electorate the powers of petitioning a president to call for a referendum as long as 500 000 registered voters sign the petition.
It is surprising though that government rejected the proposal by its own Minister of Justice Samuel Tembenu that the number of registered voters be increased to 1 million to petition the President to call for a referendum.
On the other hand, Parliament rejected the Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill. The Bill aims at entrenching the independence of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). But government wants the Chief Secretary to form part of the selection panel for the election of the commissioners. Needless to say, this would defeat the recommendation by the Special Law Commission (SLC). The Chief Secretary is appointed by the President, so making him or her part of the selection panel for MEC members would essentially be entrenching the dominance of the Executive thereby defeating the whole purpose for trying to make MEC independent.
And this is different from all what the SLC proposed. Thumbs up MPs for rejecting the altered bill. The Legal Affairs Committee to which it has been referred should now do the needful.
The other bills are the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill; the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill; The Elections Management Fund Bill, and the Assumption of Office of President (Transitional Arrangements) Bill.
This bill proposes a period not less than 30 days after the announcement of the presidential elections, to lapse before swearing-in the President and his vice. This is to allow groups and courts ample time to adequately resolve electoral grievances. But government has reduced the period to 15 days. Two weeks is not enough to adequately deal with all electoral complaints. If a candidate has been elected in a free and fair manner, why should anyone be worried that he or she will be sworn in after 30 days?
The most contentious bill is the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill, which proposes that a president should be elected with more than 50 percent of the votes, replacing the first-past-the-post (FPTP). The aim of the bill is to have a president with the mandate of the majority. But in its madness aimed at confusing the members of Parliament, government has loaded it with excess baggage. It (government) also wants the law to apply to members of Parliament and councillors. In addition, government wants to reintroduce the long forgotten Recall Provision (Section 64).
Now, this is total madness. Loading the Bill with all these issues is a ploy to make MPs reject it and thus make the Executive run away from responsibility. Subjecting the election of MPs and councilors to the same conditions as for the President is like comparing apples with guavas. The President has executive powers over State matters, while MPs and councilors do not have such powers over constituency and wards matters.
Truth is what every patriotic Malawian already knows is that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has failed this country and is now so unpopular a DPP presidential candidate cannot amass more than 50 percent of the votes unless by rigging. Government just wants to complicate matters. This Bill should be dead before it is presented in Parliament. Should it still find its way in Parliament in its heavily altered form, MPs should kick out the requirement for them and councillors to be subjected to the same requirement as for electing a president. Why should there be reruns in constituencies and wards?
MPs should also shoot down the inclusion of the Recall Provision. It has never worked in Malawi. It won’t work now. Bringing in all this into the Bill does not serve anybody’s interest except the DPP-led administration in its slumber. MPs should stick to what the Special Law Commission recommended which is the voice of reason.
Hopefully, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) has been keenly following the developments in the House as they promised. They postponed a well-supported peaceful demonstration slated for December 13 2017 to give a chance to dialogue in Parliament after government indicated it would table five of the six Bills. But government has reneged on all the Bills. It has betrayed the people. Our hope is now on PAC that it will quickly re-strategise and ensure the Bills are passed as recommended by the SLC.