Faced with mounting pressure to table all the Electoral Reforms Bills, government says it will today circulate among members of Parliament (MPs) the remaining two pieces of legislation, including the contentious 50-plus-one provision.
In an interview with The Nation yesterday, Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa said government has finalised the drafting and printing of the Bills; making them ready for distribution.
He said Cabinet last Friday finalised the scrutiny of the proposed Bills and they were being printed by the Government Printers over the weekend.
Nankhumwa, who is also Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, said: “We are circulating the 50 + 1 Bill and the [other] remaining Bills tomorrow [Monday]. The rest [in terms of schedule for tabling in the National Assembly] is up to the Business Committee [of Parliament] to finalise.”
The planned circulation of the Bills comes after government last Thursday circulated three other bills in the set collectively referred to as Electoral Reforms Bills.
Three Bills circulated last week are the Electoral Commission Act (Amendment) Bill that recommends the enactment of the Elections Management Fund to ensure Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is financially autonomous; the Referendum Bill to introduce legislation on how to conduct a referendum as one does not exist currently; and, the Assumption of the Office of President (Transitional Arrangement) proposes amendment to the Constitution to allow that swearing in of President and Vice-President be done after 30 days not within 30 days as prescribed in Section 81 (3) of the Constitution.
In a Report on the Review of the Electoral Laws to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in March this year, the Malawi Law Commission backed the introduction of 50+1 percent system of electing the country’s President while maintaining First-Past-The-Post system to consolidate acceptability and legitimacy of the elected head of State.
The Commission recommended Constitution (Amendment) Bill, Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act (PPEA) and Local Government Elections Act as well.
The most contentious of the Bills relates to the amendment of Section 80 (2) of the Constitution and Section 96 (5) of the PPE Act to provide for a change of the electoral system from a simple majority to a majority of more than 50 percent in the presidential race.
Government has come under pressure from opposition and civil society organisations (CSOs) to table the Bills as promised by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu in June.
Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a quasi-religious organisation, has since organised nationwide protest marches to push for the enactment of the proposed laws in the current meeting of Parliament. The demonstrations are set to December 13.
Last week Monday, opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) legislators led by Leader of Opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera walked out of Parliament in protest over the apparent lack of commitment from government to table the Bills.
Representatives of opposition parties in Parliament’s Business Committee have asked for an extension of the current meeting of the National Assembly to allow more time for debate and processing of the Electoral Reforms Bills.
On the status of the proposal to extend the first meeting of the 47th Session of Parliament beyond Friday, December 15, Nankhumwa said consultations were still underway.
He said: “On the extension of the sitting as requested by the opposition representatives in the Business Committee, we are still consulting and the Speaker will announce that, but we are ready with all the Bills on electoral reforms and people will have them tomorrow.”
Reacting to the new development where the Electoral Reforms Bills are set to be circulated pending tabling, PAC executive director Robert Phiri yesterday said the organisation will proceed with the planned demonstrations despite getting information about the circulation of the Bills.
He said: “I think we have been informed through [PAC chairperson] the Reverend Dr Felix Chingota that there was an e-mail which indicated a possibility of the circulation of the rest of the bills tomorrow. Until then, we can tell you the future of the demonstrations, but as of now the plans to hold the demonstrations are still on.”
Phiri said when and after when the remaining Bills are circulated they are expected to convene an emergency meeting to discuss the way forward.