Parliament Monday passed the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act (PPEA) Amendment Bill that effectively set May 19 2020 as the date for a fresh presidential election as ordered by the Constitutional Court on February 3.
Further to the amendment, driven by the verdict of a five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court that nullified the May 2019 presidential election over irregularities, the term of office for members of Parliament (MPs) and ward councillors elected during the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections has been extended from five to six years to ensure the concurrent holding of the two elections alongside the presidential election on May 21 2025.
The new PPEA (Amendment) Bill has also made a provision for a run-off or rerun within 30 days after the election in the case that no presidential candidate attains the 50 percent-plus-one vote in the first round of the vote. The run-off would be between the candidates with the highest and second highest number of votes.
The developments followed the tabling of amendments to two Electoral Reforms Bills on Monday by Lilongwe City South West MP Nancy Tembo (independent) as Private Members’ Bill (PMB) Number 5 of 2020 and PMB Number 4 of 2020 tabled by Nkhata Bay West legislator Chrispine Mphande (UTM Party).
Ironically, Parliament had on Thursday shot down the same provisions meant to facilitate the holding of fresh presidential election and setting dates for the same when they were presented as Constitutional Amendment Bill. The Bill by Chitipa East legislator Kezzie Msukwa (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) failed to garner the required two thirds majority vote for constitutional amendments.
The Constitutional Amendment Bill proposed to insert a new Section 80A.
When the House reconvened from a weekend recess yesterday, the proposed changes were moved to the PPEA and Electoral Commission Act (Amendment) Bill.
In an interview after the Bills sailed through, Tembo said she was happy that Parliament had finally set the dates for the elections and hoped the President will sign the Bills into law.
She said: “These Bills make further provision for the holding of the fresh presidential poll as directed by the court to be held on Tuesday in the third week of May 2020, that is, on 19th May this year.
“As a consequence, and in order to maintain the country’s five-year electoral cycle as provided under the Constitution, the Bill provides that the next general election, as prescribed under Section 67 (1) of the Constitution, shall be held on Tuesday in the third week of May 2025.”
In his reaction, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Bright Msaka welcomed the amendment and passing of the Bills, saying the legislators have protected the Constitution.
“This is not a constitutional amendment. That is what people should know. We have amended the Bills and that is a welcome development,” he said in an interview.
Before the House started tackling the amendments which Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara said were brought on the floor following a decision by the Business Committee—a committee comprising leaders of respective parties that sets business to be tackled—Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa said the government side was not represented in the said meeting.
He said: “We on the government side did not attend the Business Committee. I got notification today at 8am while I was in Mulanje.”
But Hara said Nankhumwa could have delegated representation, saying: “The Business Committee knew that the motions to be presented were important because of the court order whose 21 days deadline is today [Monday]. There were prior arrangements and you needed to delegate if you knew you were not going to be present, our own Standing Order 161(1) explains.”
Besides amending the Bills, the power of the President to appoint members of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) will be exercised on the recommendation of the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament.
The five-judge panel comprising Healey Potani, Mike Tembo, Ivy Kamanga, Redson Kapindu and Dingiswayo Madise, which unanimously upheld the petition to nullify the election, also tasked Parliament to facilitate the reconstruction of MEC which the court found to have been “grossly incompetent”.
Commenting on Parliament’s decision, Garton Kamchedzera, professor of law at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said now the onus is on the President to do his part.
“It now rests on the President to assent to the Bills,” he said.
The Constitutional Court directed the House to pass Electoral Reforms Bills following the nullification of the May 21 2019 presidential elections in preparation of a fresh election in 150 days from the day of the ruling.