A Nation on Sunday survey has found that 78 percent of Malawians sampled want term limits for Members of Parliament (MPs).
The survey results have drawn varied reactions from MPs and analysts, with some siding with the majority of respondents while others argue against term limits.
The survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews by Nation reporters and correspondents in 22 districts. Part of the data was pooled from our short message service (SMS) line. The vast majority of the survey was done through face-to-face interviews.
In a sample of 1 506, 1 172 respondents, representing 78 percent of the sample, supported term limits for MPs.
Section 83 (30) of the Constitution imposes a limit on presidents of two, five-year terms while MPs have the leeway to stand in elections for as long as they wish.
Council for Non-governmental Organisations (Congoma) and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) raised the debate on the issue recently when they argued that term limits for MPs are necessary for a democracy.
Kondwani Dickson, one of the respondents in the survey, said term limits will open up opportunities for young people to become MPs.
“Yes, they [MPs] need to have term limits. If they stay in Parliament forever, when will we have the chance to go to Parliament?” said Dickson.
But another respondent, Gomezgani Botha, said the limits would undermine development in constituencies as MPs would not have enough time to realise their dreams.
“No, because some MPs are good development champions in their areas,” said Botha.
Hyacinta Chikaonda, MP for Dedza East, agreed with supporters of term limits for legislators, saying MPs who stay long in power tend to become pompous.
“I think there should be a limit so that after a number of terms, more youthful MPs with fresh ideas should be elected,” said Chikaonda on Friday.
But Mangochi South West MP, Asibu Shamil, contested the idea of fixing terms for MPs, saying lawmakers need time to develop their constituencies.
Dr Cassim Chilumpha, who represents Nkhotakota South Constituency, said the matter of terms for MPs is a complex constitutional issue that should be handled carefully.
“If the Constitution, which is the highest law of the land—only second to God’s law—says MPs are free to contest as long as they wish, why shouldn’t they? Just because someone doesn’t like someone, then they think of changing the Constitution?” said Chilumpha.
For Khwauli Msiska, Karonga Nyungwe Parliamentarian, if Malawi can limit terms for MPs, it would be a unique nation because he has never heard of such a thing.
A Nation on Sunday search could not find a country that has term limits for lawmakers.
Human rights activist Billy Mayaya agreed with Msiska’s line of thought.
“If you examine the worldwide trend, particularly in established democracies, term limits [for MPs] are non-existent in that they happen organically. Even here in Malawi, term limits have occurred naturally.
“Constituents’ demands and expectations are not always easy to meet and, therefore, with a subsequent election, they are voted out. Parliamentarians like JZU [John Tembo] are unique in this regard. A case in point is the 2009 elections where a substantial number of MPs fell by the wayside,” said Mayaya.
Political science lecturer at Chancellor College, Dr Boniface Dulani, said there is no need to fix the terms for MPs because the natural process sieves the bad from the good every election year.
“We need to go back to ancient Rome to understand the origins of term limits. They were introduced to avoid the risk of leaders becoming tyrannies. Term limits, therefore, work for the post of president because if you take 193 MPs, the possibility of all or one of them becoming a tyranny is decimal,” said Dulani.
He said in some countries there are MPs who have been in Parliament since they began politics and are, therefore, experienced and versed in the area of legislation. Dulani said staying long in Parliament might actually be good for continuity.