Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has changed its tune on implementation of proposed electoral reforms in the 2019 Tripartite Elections, saying it is ready to effect the changes as long as Parliament passes them before the elections.
The new position contradicts MEC’s earlier position that it may fail to implement some laws during the 2019 elections if they are not enacted within the next six months. MEC argued that by then it would have been at an advanced stage in its planning.
In a written response to a questionnaire on electoral reforms, MEC director responsible for media and public relations, Sangwani Mwafulirwa, yesterday said that while the commission would want the reforms passed on time, the electoral body was geared up even if they were enacted in 2018.
He said: “MEC will appreciate if the reforms are passed on time for ample preparations. If passed in 2018, MEC will still have to implement them since they will be laws.”
But Mwafulirwa said the commission was optimistic the reforms would be passed on time so that they are incorporated without difficulties.
He said: “We are of the opinion that all stakeholders are aware that time is of essence and will give all the support towards this cause. MEC is not above the law. MEC works within the laws of the country.”
Currently, the commission is undertaking some electoral activities which it started in February this year in the run up to the polls.
MEC’s change of tune could be attributed to recent pressure from some stakeholders who were up against the electoral body’s position that it may fail to implement the reforms.
Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) last week cautioned the electoral body against acting in a manner that will be perceived as suppressing implementation of the reforms ahead of the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Mesn chairperson Steve Duwa said MEC should be prepared at all cost to implement whatever will come from Parliament.
But Mwafulirwa said MEC could not choose which laws to implement and leave aside, saying :“All reforms will have to be implemented if enacted into law.”
Political and social commentator Charles Kajoloweka urged MEC to be consistent in its statements, saying moving back and forth could erode its credibility.
He said: “In the first place, MEC’s first suggestion meant that it was above the law. But now what is more critical is to ensure they manage their mandate properly before their independence and credibility is questioned. It must not stand in the reforms way because its duty is just to implement them.”
However, Kajoloweka said it was important to also realise that MEC had a point in saying there is need to have the reforms passed earlier.
“This will ensure that administrative excuses are avoided but that MEC has powers to obstruct the legal processes is completely misplaced,” he said.
Last week, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu was elusive on government’s commitment to bring to Parliament the six electoral Bills for debate, saying that may be done in November and not current meeting of Parliament.
The Special Law Commission on the Review of the Electoral Law made several recommendations and among the most contentious is the adoption of the 50+1 system of electing the president which opposition political parties are particularly keen to see being implemented in 2019.
The 50+1 system, if passed by Parliament, will replace the current first-past-the-post system, which allows candidates to win the presidency by a simple majority.