Riled by the absence of Electoral Reforms Bills on the agenda for the ongoing Parliament meeting, opposition parties are firm on boycotting proceedings unless government commits to table the proposed laws.
The proposed laws, six in total, are missing from the Order Paper—an outline of business to be transacted in Parliament—despite assurances in June by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu to table them this month. Cabinet is yet to discuss the bills, according to Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa.
In his response to President Peter Mutharika’s opening address to the 47th session of Parliament, Leader of Opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera on Monday said the Electoral Reforms Bills represent the will of the people and that government’s commitment to table the same was non-negotiable.
He said: “Failing which, we will have no choice, but to boycott proceedings as the people we represent have directed us to.”
The opposition is apparently further incensed by the fact that the President made no mention of the bills in his address on Friday.
In an interview after delivering his response, Chakwera said the opposition has received a lot of feedback from various quarters on the lack of commitment from the government side on the bills.
He said before embarking on the boycott, they wanted to listen to government first through the Speaker of Parliament.
Said Chakwera: “We can’t start the boycott now before listening to what government will say. We needed the intervention of the Speaker who has said, until the minister responsible is available, only then can government give a concrete answer.”
On its part, People’s Party (PP) yesterday said the boycott of Parliament was still on the cards.
“For us and the people out there is no business more important. If government does not table them, we will see no point in continuing with any other item of business,” said PP Chief Whip Ralph Jooma interview yesterday.
Civil society organisations (CSOs), notably Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), last week appealed to members of Parliament (MPs) to boycott proceedings if the bills are not indicated on the business for the current meeting.
Public Affairs Committee (PAC), which has lobbied the government, opposition and the Speaker on the bills, is due to meet today to discuss the way forward after noting that government has not included the bills on the agenda.
Several opposition MPs in the National Assembly on Monday took to task government for not including the Electoral Reforms Bill in the upcoming events on the Order Paper, saying government lied to the nation that it would bring the bill in the current sitting.
In his response, Nankhumwa, who is also Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, agreed with Speaker Richard Msowoya, saying the House just started meeting; hence, the legislators should not lose hope.
He pleaded for patience for Tembenu to address the House.
However, when he appeared in the House yesterday, Tembenu was not called on to respond to the issues.
The Electoral Reforms Bills include an amendment of Section 80(2) of the Constitution and Section 96 (5) of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act proposing 50+1 percent majority in presidential election and an amendment of Section 81 (3) of the Constitution for swearing in of the President and Vice-President to be done after 30 days.