Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has asked African Union (AU) to intervene in the country’s political situation by urging President Peter Mutharika to assent to the Electoral Reforms Bills which Parliament passed in February 2020.
In a letter dated March 30, co-signed by HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo, vice-chairperson Gift Trapence and national coordinator Luke Tembo, the coalition is asking AU chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also President of South Africa, to urge Mutharika to assent to the Bills he refused to sign two weeks ago.
Reads the letter in part: “In light of the disturbing political and security developments in Malawi, which threatens political stability, peace and security in Malawi, Your Excellency, you are best placed to emphasise to President Mutharika the importance of separation of powers in a democracy, and the limitations of presidential powers in a constitutional republic.
“Urge President Mutharika to assent to the electoral reforms passed by the Parliament and create conditions for holding of fresh elections in a way that increases the legitimacy of whoever emerges as the winner in the elections.”
In an interview yesterday, Trapence said Ramaphosa has acknowledged receipt of their letter.
He said HRDC is expecting the AU to act on the coalition’s concerns.
Said Trapence: “We are happy that they have acknowledged receipt of our letter which shows how effective the office of President Ramaphosa is on issues affecting African citizens.”
Commenting on the matter, Mzuzu-based governance commentator Makhumbo Munthali said HRDC’s move is not strange because in the past, civil society organisations have also been petitioning regional organisations such as the United Nations and AU to intervene on human rights and governance issues if not resolved locally.
He expressed doubt on whether writing AU will yield the intended results, saying: “Looking at the way the AU has been operating, sometimes it is like a toothless branch of leaders who back each other. One would doubt if it would really act on the HRDC petition as one would expect.”
On March 17, Mutharika sent his press secretary Mgeme Kalilani to announce that he has withheld assent to four election-related bills that Parliament sent for his nod in February; and that he would not fire Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) commissioners who the Constitutional Court presiding over the presidential election dispute, found to be incompetent and ordered Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee to further assess them. The committee recommended that they be sacked.
Kalilani said the President believes the four bills are unconstitutional and amount to a power grab by the Legislature in a democratic system that thrives on separation of powers.