With about 18 months to go to the 2019 Tripartite Elections in Malawi, donors have stressed that they expect the newly-opened Parliament to deliberate on electoral reforms for the sake of the country’s democratic growth.
The donors were reacting to President Peter Mutharika’s address yesterday during the opening of the 47th Session of Parliament in which he did not mention the issue of electoral reforms.
Traditionally, the president’s speech sets the tone for deliberations in the meeting of Parliament.
According to British High Commissioner Holly Tett, even if the issue was not part of the President’s speech, she is hopeful that the Bills will form the agenda of this meeting of Parliament in view of the remaining time to the next elections.
“We are interested to see how this session of Parliament goes. I am really keen to see the debates on the Political Parties’ Bill and whatever comes out will have impact on what the President said about transparency and accountability. And we are really looking forward to seeing electoral reforms tabled in the House,” she said.
Asked on what makes the United Kingdom confident that the reforms will be tabled in the House without the President making a commitment in his address, Tett said: “I just hope it will be there, in the interest of Malawians. Otherwise, we have no position on the matter.”
In a separate interview, Norwegian Ambassador Kikkan Haugen said he is optimistic that the proposed law reforms will be presented in the House during this meeting, adding that the reforms have the potential to consolidate and deepen the country’s democracy.
He was particularly glad that the President placed more emphasis on transparency and accountability at all levels, saying in the same spirit he expects government to prioritise the Political Parties’ Bill in the current meeting.
“According to the information I have, and the dialogue I have been having with representatives from the Cabinet, and also from the opposition, I am confident that the electoral reforms will be debated in this session of Parliament,” said Haugen.
Also reacting to the address, American Ambassador Virginia Palmer expects the House to address the matter now, rather than later, to give time to Parliament and government to implement what they will agree on the issue.
She stressed that the donors do not have a position on what the electoral reforms should be but the envoy added that the donors’ feeling is that there is a need for reforms following widespread concerns which dogged the 2014 Tripartite Elections.
Added Palmer: “We are hoping that Parliament and government will be able to accomplish that.”
She agreed with Mutharika that the country is doing well in terms of macroeconomic stability, particularly where government has managed to stick to its budget. She commended the President for declaring his commitment to developing the country, adding that such executive passion pleases development partners.
In his immediate reaction, leader of Opposition and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera branded the President’s speech as ‘a public lecture’ on what ‘Parliament is all about’.
He also expressed shock on what he called ‘the loud silence’ on electoral reforms, despite promises that they would be brought to the House this time around.
Asked on what they intend to do if government does not bring to Parliament the much-touted electoral reforms, Chakwera said he could wait to hear an official position from the Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa as business resumes on Monday afternoon.
In a telephone interview, government spokesperson Nicholas Dausi defended the President’s speech, saying it touched on important areas aimed at improving the living conditions of Malawians.
“Electoral reforms are important but it is practically not possible for a speech to touch on all aspects,” said Dausi. n