Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development Grace Chiumia says President Peter Mutharika’s administration is not in support of the proposed electoral reforms, especially the proposal to have 50 percent-plus-one majority in the presidential election.
The minister has since described the decision by the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) to hold nationwide protests to push for the processing of the proposed laws in Parliament as a ploy to confuse Malawians.
But Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi, who is the official government spokesperson, said in an interview his Cabinet colleague was only exercising her right to speak as a citizen. He was responding to a question on whether Chiume’s sentiments reflected the official government position.
In her remarks at a political rally the governing Democratic
Progressive Party (DPP) held at Mpherembe in Mzimba West Constituency on Saturday, Chiumia said Malawi was not ready for this change in elections management, as it will be a waste of resources.
She said: “There is this clergy group called PAC which wants to confuse people on elections as they are advocating for the 50 percent plus one system in electing the President. We have seen how problematic this system has been in other countries because every time a candidate doesn’t get the required votes, then a rerun takes place, which is expensive.
“Money meant for reruns should be used in constructing roads, buying medicine in hospitals and many other things. I beg you people of Mzimba West, let us all reject this proposal. Join the President so that these people don’t confuse you. Reject this. As government, we don’t support this. We don’t want it.”
In an interview after the rally, Chiumia maintained her stand that Malawi is not ready for the change, but could not tell when the country will be ready.
“Several times government has been engaging PAC, but it seems they [PAC] are still impatient. If you see there are very few people who were engaged on these reforms if you compare to 17 million people in the country who don’t understand it. So, I will go round the country to talk to people on this,” she said.
Ironically, two other Cabinet ministers who attended the rally— Jappie Mhango (Transport and Public Works) and Goodall Gondwe (Finance, Economic Planning and Development)—did not comment on Chiume’s remarks in their addresses to the meeting.
Instead, Gondwe and Mhango urged people of Mpherembe to elect leaders that will represent them in Parliament.
Chiumia’s sentiments contradict what Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu had promised in Parliament that the Electoral Reforms Bills would be tabled in the House during the current meeting.
Yesterday, presidential press secretary and spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani referred the matter to Dausi.
Dausi queried whether Chiumia does not have the right to express her opinion.
He said in platform or podium politics, people exercise their constitutional right to freedom of speech. But, he said, people expect freedom of speech to only mean that it belongs to those in opposition.
Said Dausi: “Did she [Chiumia] say what I am saying, I have been sent by government? Are Cabinet ministers not entitled to their personal opinion?
“People are debating and the issue of 50 percent-plus-one is in the public domain. So, you must expect people to debate. Ministers, members of Parliament, civil society, church leaders have the right to debate. Are you telling me that Cabinet ministers, as human beings, do not have the right to debate?
“Is it a crime to debate in a democracy? Is it a crime to have critical voices? The problem we have is that whatever someone in government says is a crime. So when you ask me if what was said is government’s stance, I ask you, should she [Chiumia] not participate in a debate?”
PAC executive director Robert Phiri has said the institutions remains hopeful to see government fulfil its promise on the reforms.
He said the Government Technical Team (GTT) which engaged PAC committed itself to table Electoral and Local Government Act Reforms during the current sitting of Parliament and this commitment has not been withdrawn, so it still stands.
He said: “The electoral reforms were also part of the 19 issues that presidential candidates, including President Peter Mutharika, committed themselves to, and, as PAC, we have that particular basis.
“We are calling on all patriotic Malawians to have the conviction and have the belief in democratic norms to join us.”
PAC has organised nationwide marches on December 13 2017 to demonstrate dissatisfaction with how government has handled electoral and local government reforms.
During a recent debate on electoral reforms in Mzuzu, PAC secretary Father Mark Mkandawire said if government is afraid of the 50 percent –plus-one provision, hence delays in tabling it, there is need to analyse government.
The Electoral Reforms Bills include an amendment of Section 80(2) of the Constitution and Section 96 (5) of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act proposing 50 percent+1 percent majority in presidential election and an amendment of Section 81 (3) of the Constitution for swearing-in of the President and Vice-President to be done after 30 days.
Proposals to have the reforms date back to 2004 and the subsequent Constitutional Review Conference in 2007. n