Members of Parliament (MPs) have given mixed views on how they would vote if the Electoral Reforms Bill was taken to the National Assembly today with 32 of the 76 legislators The Nation polled undecided and 39 in support.
From the findings, the majority of those for the changes to the electoral laws, including constitutional amendments, are legislators in the Northern and Central regions where opposition parties, notably Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and People’s Party (PP) have more MPs compared to the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
On the other hand, in the Southern Region, where the DPP has the most parliamentary seats, 32 of the 39 legislators polled said they were not decided with seven, mostly from the Eastern Region districts where PP and United Democratic Front (UDF) draw their representation, indicated they would outrightly vote “yes” to the electoral reforms.
There are 33 parliamentary seats in the North, 73 in the Centre and 87 in the South.
The Nation poll followed a Report on the Review of the Electoral Laws to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs as compiled by the Malawi Law Commission which backed the introduction of 50+1 percent system of electing the country’s President while maintaining First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system to consolidate acceptability and legitimacy of the elected Head of State.
The Malawi Law Commission proposed six Bills, collectively called Electoral Reforms Bill, including amendments to facilitate effective electoral dispute resolutions by specifying the period between the swearing in of the winning presidential candidate and the announcement of the results.
The proposed bills are Constitution (Amendment), Electoral Commission (Amendment), Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections, Assumption of the Office of the President (Transitional Arrangement) and Referendum.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu told Parliament the Electoral Reforms Bill would be tabled this November.
In interviews with legislators from the Southern Region, while 32 were undecided, seven said they would support the Bill. No one indicated they would shoot it down.
The undecided legislators said they would make their position clear after scrutinising the proposed changes to be tabled in Parliament or they would go by their political parties’ position as agreed at a caucus.
However, some legislators, including independents said they would go by what their constituents will recommend after consulting them on the issue.
“Personally, I would support the Bill as it would actualise the anticipated electoral reforms as we go into the 2019 Tripartite Elections. Again, passing this Bill will be very crucial as it would form part of the democratic values,” said Mangochi North East MP Idi Kalosi (UDF).
Machinga East lawmaker Esther Jolobala, who won the parliamentary race in her constituency in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections on an independent ticket but is now affiliated to UDF, said she would also support the Bill because it is the position of her party to do so.
Independent legislator Mary Khembo of Neno South said the Bill was imperative in strengthening the country’s democracy and would “pass it but with some amendments”.
On the other hand, all the DPP MPs we spoke to said they were undecided.
“It would be difficult for me to say whether I would support it or not without closely scrutinising the document first. So, my position will only be known once that exercise is done,” said one legislator.
In the Central Region, the survey question on MPs’ position on Electoral Reforms Bill was put to 28 legislators out of which 21 were in support seven were undecided, opting to reserve their comments.
Most of those polled said they would need to scrutinise the amendments in the Bill and listen to their parties’ advice on the matter before they turned to their consciences during the voting.
“I am a reformist and I am not happy with the status quo in our political dispensation currently. So, I would generally support the Bill. But this will only be if the right amendments will be in the Bill at that time,” said one MP.
While pledging their support to the Electoral Reforms Bills, especially on the 50-plus-one proposal and management of results, MPs interviewed in the Central Region were sceptical on whether the content of the Bills would be up to their expectation.
“Yes I am in support of electoral reforms. We need to go for 50-plus-one in 2019.We need to have a President who will have been voted into power by the majority of Malawians.
“Vote counting has to be concluded at the polling centre and results announced there and then. All these issues have prompted me to support these reforms,” said one MP.
Another legislator said he was in full support of the electoral reforms, but was quick to add that some amendments would need to be proposed.
However, about five MPs affiliated to DPP were less open about their views on the Electoral Reforms Bills and reserved their opinion.
In the Northern Region, irrespective of their party affiliations, MPs spoke in support of the Electoral Reforms Bill.
While there are minor differences on proposals relating to transitional period for Presidents, all the nine MPs contacted on the matter supported changing the electoral system from the FPTP to 50+1 for the President, arguing it will improve on representative democracy.
For instance, Chitipa North MP James Munthali (PP) said the current FPTP system has resulted in a situation where some section of the society do not approve of presidential winners because majority of the electorate voted against the person.
He also said he would want to have Constituency Tally Centres, instead of just having the National Tally Centre, saying, this will help prevent manipulation of data at all points.
His PP counterpart in Mzimba North, Agnes Nyalonje also said the party has already taken a stance to support the Bill.
While mentioning that she was yet to see the Bill, and could not therefore comment on specific items, Nyalonje said she supports the 50+1 idea as it will improve on representative democracy.
The sentiments were also shared by Mzimba West parliamentarian Harry Mkandawire who said the current system empowers just a ‘corner’ of Malawians to elect the President.
He said: “Almost all countries have moved away from this FPTP, look at Zambia and others, why should we still stick to it as a country? It does not make sense, you find that a President wins with 29 percent, how does he or she expect to be respected?”
Karonga Central MP Frank Mwenifumbo (Alliance for Democracy-Aford) concurred with Mkandawire on both issues, saying, the 50+1 system will help provide a President legitimacy to rule, but also unite the country.
Former State vice-president Khumbo Kachali, while stating that he will support only those clauses that will benefit Malawians such as the 50+1, cast doubt if government will this November present the Bill in Parliament.
The Mzimba South West legislator stated that he would not support proposal to introduce a period of transition, arguing that doing so would bring chaos.
Nkhata Bay Central legislator Ralph Mhone (PP) said he has no problems with the proposed reforms, but that his stance will be known based on what government brings to Parliament.
Recently, Public Affairs Committee (PAC) has been lobbying the government side and opposition in Parliament to support the electoral reforms. n