Last Thursday, Nsanje South West legislator Joseph Chidanti Malunga was set to move a private members motion for a Constitutional Amendment to put a limit on the age of presidential candidates.
By now, the outcome of the motion if it was tabled is already in the public domain.
The motion sought to limit the age for anyone aspiring to run for the high office or be appointed as president at 65 as the maximum age limit.
Currently, the country’s laws only provide for a minimum age limit of 35 for the presidency.
The proposal for a maximum age limit is premised on the basis that naturally people get weaker as they age and that the president should be someone who is energetic.
The proposal for an age limit is a good one. It will surely ensure that only people who are strong occupy the plot number one.
As some have rightly argued there have been old leaders who were good, but there have also been young leaders whose leadership was not all that good. That being young does not automatically translate into good leadership. Neither does being old mean one will not be a bad leader.
But I want to argue that if we want to put an age limit on the president, we can make it better by extending the same age limit to all politicians including members of Parliament (MPs) or all those aspiring for a political office.
If we are to put an age limit on the presidency, we should also do the same on those who want to be MPS and councillors. Why should we elect to have a strong president and a weak legislator or councillor?
In fact, there is already a problem on age limits under the Malawi Constitution which is the supreme law.
Civil Servants in Malawi retire at 60, judges and justices of appeal at 65. Why the discrimination? Are judges and justices of appeal not civil servants? Why should civil servants in the same government retire at different ages? Under the same Malawi Constitution which spells out that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their creed, race, tribe, gender, et cetera, the deferential on age for tenure of office for its officers is problematic.
Section 4, Section 20 (1) of the Laws of Malawi states that discrimination of persons in any form is prohibited and all persons are, under any law guaranteed equal and effective protection against discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion nation, ethnic, or social origin, disability, property, birth, or other status or condition.
Section 20 (2) further provides that legislation may be passed addressing inequalities in society and prohibiting discriminatory practices and the propagation of such practices and may render such practices criminal punishable by the courts. Section 119 (1) sets out the tenure of office of judges and states that a person shall vacate the office of judge on attaining the age prescribed in subsection 6. The said section prescribes the age of 65 years or such other age as may be prescribed by Parliament.
If we want to be consistent with the Constitutional provision on equality before the law, all those aspiring for a political office should have the same age limit. If the maximum age for president should be 65 then MPs who also hold elective offices are politicians and are paid by the same taxpayers should be 65.
In fact, although Parliament has the powers to change the tenure of office or age limits, it should not be in the habit of doing so for particular political offices with someone in mind. Otherwise we will all the time be changing the Constitution to suit our situation.
Section 4 of the Constitution binds all executive, legislative and judicial organs of the State at all levels of Government and all the peoples of Malawi to equal protection.
Section 5 states the supremacy of the Constitution. It states that any act of Government or any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution shall be invalid and should be respected.
Section 8 further obliges the legislature to enact laws that reflect the interests of all the peoples of Malawians. When were the interests of Malawians sought to give their views on the maximum age of the president? I hope and pray the motion was well and soundly defeated.