Once bitten twice shy

Malawians are now paying for the sins of their political masters. Without beating about the bush, these are the selfish members of Parliament (MPs) and greedy Cabinet ministers. The current political impasse in Malawi—after two leading opposition parties and their presidential candidates in the recent elections—are disputing the presidential results should squarely be blamed on them for throwing away the baby with the bath water.

Long before the May 21 Tripartite Elections some well-meaning Malawians championed for the enactment of several Electoral Reform Bills. The Bills are the Referendum Bill, the Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill, the Transition (Amendment) Bill, the 50+1 system of electing a president to replace the first-past-the-post (FPTP).There were two other Bills which for lack of space we will not discuss them here.

If passed into law the Referendum Bill will, among other things, give the electorate the powers of petitioning Presidents to call for a referendum as long as 500 000 registered voters sign the petition. The Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill aims at entrenching the independence of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). The Transition (Amendment) 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. The aim of the 50 percent +1 system for electing the President, with the possibility of a second round, was to have a president with the mandate of the majority.

But in its rabid bid to frustrate the Bill, Cabinet loaded the Bill with so many other distracting things. Cabinet wanted the Bill to also apply to MPs and councillors. It also wanted the Recall Provision (Section 64) to be reintroduced under the same Bill. The ploy was to make MPs reject it and thus run away from responsibility. Truth is that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) knew it could not amass more than 50 percent of the votes. In the 2014 elections, only 35 percent of voters nodded for Peter Mutharika. It was total madness on the part of the Executive to frustrate the Bill. As they say, the rest is history. When the Bill was ready for tabling after it was stripped of the excess baggage, the Executive was once again at it. It bought some compromised and selfish MPs to vote against tabling the Bill in the House. Information that the Executive had stashed all MPs who helped it frustrate the Bill, with millions kwacha for projects in their constituencies, is in the public domain.

Now we are in this mess where MCP and UTM presidents Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima, respectively, are disputing the election of the DPP’s candidate Peter Mutharika as president. MEC declared him winner after amassing 38.5 percent of the votes. If Parliament had passed the 50 percent + 1 Bill, the country would simply have held a re-run and moved on. The eventual winner would have got the mandate of the majority of the people to rule this country for the next five years. At the same time, we would have avoided court battles; we would have avoided the looting of property that is taking place by angry people demonstrating against the alleged fraudulent presidential election. We would have avoided the running battles between the Police and rioters who are hijacking the demonstrations for their own selfish agendas. And above everything else we would have avoided the political uncertainty in the country, which is negatively impacting businesses and the country’s economy. This is very bad for the fourth poorest country in the world, only better than war-torn Somalia, South Sudan and Burundi, according to GNI per capita. 

But the remedy for all this is to bring the 50 + 1 Bill back in Parliament and make it law. The strategy should be to start early. Once bitten, twice shy. The Bill will also solve the long standing problem of voting along tribal and regional patterns in the country. The DPP-led Government, which in the first place, spurned the Bill, will never champion its tabling. We have all seen the party lacks the mental stamina to do the right thing if there is nothing for them in it. It, therefore, behoves the opposition and all well-meaning independent MPs, CSOs and Malawians of goodwill to do the right thing for the good of Malawians.

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