Hours to the expiry of a seven-day ultimatum the clergy through the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) gave President Peter Mutharika and Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya, more pressure is being exerted on government to table the Electoral Reforms Bills.
Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) and 16 other civil society organisations (CSOs) have asked government to “diligently live by its word and take the bills to Parliament for debate during the current sitting”.
The CSOs demand comes days after the influential PAC, a democracy, transparency and human rights watchdog comprising main Catholic, main protestant churches and Muslims, petitioned the Speaker and the President last Thursday, threatening to mobilise nationwide street protests if nothing is done by tomorrow.
In the statement issued yesterday after its emergency meeting over the weekend and signed by Mesn chairperson Steven Duwa, the CSOs said they have been engaging several stakeholders on subsequent developments relating to the implementation of the 32 recommendations of the Special Law Commission on Electoral Reforms Bills.
Among others, the CSOs observed the missing of the bills on the agenda of Parliament for the current sitting despite Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu’s pledge to do so.
The CSOs observe that the silence has created room for speculation, rumour-mongering, unnecessary anxiety and suspicions which they say is a recipe to compromise the entire electoral process as the country heads towards the 2019 elections.
“Based on the aforesaid observations, we appeal to government to diligently live by its word and take the bills to Parliament and be tabled during the current sitting of the House,” reads part of the statement signed by Duwa.
Among others, the CSOs include Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), Church and Society of Synod of Livingstonia, Nkhoma Synod Church and Society, Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) and Council for Non-Governmental Organisations in Malawi (Congoma).
Others are Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM), Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), Centre for Human Rights Education Advice Assistance (Chreaa), Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco), Gender Support Network, Civil Liberties Committee (Cilic) and The Story Workshop.
Further the CSOs have also appealed to all stakeholders to look at the Special Law Commission’s report wholesomely while continuing to disseminate the right information in a language that would ensure effective delivery of the message on electoral reforms.
Mesn and its partners have also requested the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to enhance the implementation of non-legislative reforms currently underway.
The 16 CSOs’ solidarity statement comes days after another group of local CSOs moved to block Parliament from debating the bills, calling for wider consultations.
The grouping, under the banner of Civil Society Platform of Electoral Reforms, also delivered its petition to Speaker of Parliament last week.
Among the organisations trying to block the tabling and debating of the bills included the Centre for Conflict Management and Women Affairs (Cecowda), Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU), Forum for National Development and Concerned Citizens.
The platform’s chairperson Bright Kampaundi claimed the basis of consultations on the bills was not a true reflection of the public and did not truly represent the peoples wish.
But Tembenu has challenged PAC that its petition will not change anything in the manner government is handling the matter, saying government was working within its mandate.
He said: “PAC needs to go back to its constitution and understand what it is supposed to do… Government is not answerable to PAC so we cannot be dictated by unreasonable demands made by PAC, we are accountable to people of this country.”
However, in his reaction, PAC publicity secretary the Reverend Father Peter Mulomole said while government was right that it was not accountable to PAC, but his body cannot be prevented from petitioning government.
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.