The country’s former vice-president Khumbo Kachali has warned the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) against reviving street demonstrations to push for electoral reforms laws, saying people have lost confidence in the institution.
Kachali, who is Mzimba South West member of Parliament (MP) and a member of the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament, expressed his views during a consultative meeting the parliamentary committee had with PAC at Parliament Building in Lilongwe yesterday on the Electoral Commission Act (Amendment) Bill which the National Assembly referred to the committee for review.
He said the last minute postponement of the December 13 2018 nationwide demonstrations to push for the tabling of Electoral Reforms Bills cost PAC public trust. The legislator said, instead, PAC should think of how it will positively contribute to the success of the 2019 General Elections.
Said Kachali: “Taking back to the streets the electoral reforms is waste of time. People have lost trust. Rather concentrate on how best we can help Malawians for a peaceful tripartite elections and also fight for the independence of MBC [Malawi Broadcasting Corporation] which has now turned to be a party broadcasting house which is worrisome as it brings conflict. So, if you go on the streets on this [MBC issue], I can assure you that I would personally join you, but not on the electoral reforms.”
The lawmaker’s sentiments come barely a day after PAC cancelled its board meeting that sought to, among others, map the way forward on the demonstrations to revive the electoral reforms agenda.
Kachali said PAC’s last minute decision to postpone the demonstrations on the basis of government’s indication to table the bills, including one proposing 50-plus-one majority in electing the country’s President, raised eyebrows with the majority concluding that the quasi-religious grouping was silenced with money.
He said: “Any decision taken at midnight is not a good decision. We thought that you were given money at the last minute and that money was not in kwacha, but in dollars in order for you to be silent.”
Responding to the concerns, PAC vice-chairperson Osman Karim told the committee that no money changed hands and that if money was given to them, they could have declared it and given the same to charity.
On the way forward, PAC promised to look at how it can contribute to peaceful tripartite elections as it foresees a tricky situation where there will be a narrow margin which they fear will bring a lot of conflict.
PAC mobilised people and made announcements that it was going to hold a nationwide demonstration as a way of forcing government to table, debate and pass the electoral reforms which, among others, included the 50+1 elections system bill.
In his address to a visibly disappointed Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament, PAC executive director Robert Phiri admitted the last minute change was regrettable.
He said: “We know that a lot of people have been victimised by that decision we made on that night. We erred. Administratively, the decision was right, but politically it was wrong.”
Phiri said the cancellation was based on an analysis they did after looking at the whole thing which emanated from a petition they presented to Parliament and was received by Legal Affairs Committee chairperson.
He said: “In the petition, we stressed that the bills be presented and passed in Parliament. The time we presented the petition the bills were not even on the order paper of the House, but as we drew near [the deadline] Cabinet decided to present the bills.
“So, we awaited the debate having in mind that we did not want to be seen as being an influencing factor for the deliberations of the House.”
The Electoral Commission Act (Amendment) Bill was the only survivor from a set of Electoral Reforms Bills that Parliament rejected in December amid tension between government and the quasi religious grouping.
The others were Amendment of Section 80 (2) of the Constitution and Section 96(5) of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act (PPEA) proposing a 50-plus-one majority in presidential election; Consolidation of PPE Act and Local Government Elections Act; Amendment of Section 81 (3) of the Constitution for swearing-in of President and Vice-President to be done after 30 days.
There was also the Assumption of Office of President Bill to provide for the establishment of a transition team before a President assumes office and; Amendment to Section 62 of the Constitution where each district would provide a single constituency in which only women would contest. n