Dialogue among parties is critical if Malawi is to avoid plunging into a constitutional crisis after Parliament rejected a constitutional amendment to set date and modalities for holding of a fresh presidential election, a British scholar has said.
In an interview on the sidelines of a three-day meeting of the Women’s Caucus in Parliament held in Mangochi on Saturday, Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy and international development at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, said parties should discuss the issue at hand to attain a common ground in the wake of the February 3 Constitutional Court verdict that nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election and ordered a fresh election within 150 days.
He said: “It’s a fascinating moment in Malawi. It’s either we could have an election in the next 120 days or we can see a major constitutional crisis and protests again.
“What is important now is the quality of leadership. If parties can come together and discuss, it can be a huge democratic process of Malawi. We need parties to operate in dialogue so that they can find common ground so that Parliament is able to do work that was envisaged by the Constitutional Court.”
In a separate interview, British High Commissioner Holly Tett asked Malawi to take necessary actions to move forward.
She said Parliament is doing what it can to implement the order of the five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court that also ordered a fresh election within 150 days.
Said Tett: “Malawians are really asking for Malawi to be seen as a beacon of democratic principles. Globally, people are watching Malawi on how things will unfold; hence, an action needs to be taken.”
She said the United Kingdom will continue supporting Parliament to play its role and ensure democratic development.
Her sentiments come after Parliament on Thursday failed to pass the proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill to facilitate holding of a fresh presidential election and setting dates because the Bill failed to garner the required two thirds majority vote.
Technically, this means that there is no date for the fresh presidential election (and a run-off in case no candidate secures 50+1 majority of the votes) as per the February 3 2020 order of the five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court that nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election over irregularities.
On Friday, Parliament again failed to map the way forward on the bill as the House adjourned early following the boycott of proceedings by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members of Parliament (MPs). Besides, a power outage also disrupted business.
Today, the House has up to the close of business to discuss the way forward on the Constitutional Amendment Bill to facilitate fresh election date as per the court order.
In its judgement, the court asked Parliament to make appropriate provisions in the law within 21 days to facilitate the holding of a fresh election and provision for a run-off in the event that no candidate secures the 50-plus-one majority.
When asked on the way forward with the 21-day deadline fast approaching, Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara said she needed to consult her technical team because the issue is sensitive.
She said: “Give me a questionnaire and I will get back to you. I cannot just answer on my own… Give me time.”
However, the Speaker was yet to respond to our questionnaire by press time around 8pm.
The questions posed to Hara included an explanation on the way forward on the proposed amendment and how Parliament will discuss the proposed funding for the fresh election Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Joseph Mwanamvekha in the absence of dates.
The court nullified the presidential election in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections over irregularities, especially in the result management system and tasked Parliament to take appropriate legislative measures to ensure that:
•The significance of the certainty which is brought by the fixing of the date of the general election under Section 67(1) of the Constitution is preserved; and that,
•Whoever is elected President of the Republic during the fresh elections, is allowed to serve the constitutionally prescribed five-year term, among others.
The court five-judge panel comprising Healey Potani, Mike Tembo, Ivy Kamanga, RedsonKapindu and DingiswayoMadise, which unanimously upheld a petition to nullify the election, also tasked Parliament to facilitate the reconstruction of Malawi Electoral Commission which the court found to have been “grossly incompetent”.
During the Mangochi meeting, female parliamentarians shared ideas on how to improve their leadership skills, proactive and retain their seats in the next general elections.