Independent parliamentarians whose number is growing every general election are proving to be serving their own interests.
Just last week President Peter Mutharika hosted 30—yet to be sworn-in—independent legislators at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre, coaxing them to join his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Fifty-five out of the 501 independent candidates in the recent elections made it to Parliament.
Data shows there has been a surge of the independent MPs from 1999, when four were elected. In 2004 elections, the number shot to 40, then 32 in the 2009 polls and as many as 52 in the 2014 elections.
The tendency by the independent MPs to align with parties rejected by constituents has over the years been a bone of contention with some commentators raising concerns that the will of the electorates is being diluted.
Weighing in on the need to police the independents, some legal experts believe independent MPs will continue to get away with such conduct if supportive legislations and political systems to check the practice are not put in place.
Twelve years ago, a Special Law Commission on the Constitutional Review recommended an amendment to Section 65 to also apply to independent MPs.
Currently, Section 65, which only targets MPs who cease to be members of a political party on whose ticket they were elected and join another party represented in the National Assembly.
According to the report of the 2007 Law Commission Review, the commission considered that any change of status amounts to betrayal of constituents since there is a social contract between the MP and the electorates.
The commission also feared that leaving out independents may expose the provision to abuse since powerful political parties may field more candidates disguised as indepeandents thereby gaining unfair advantage.
At the time, the commission recommended that Section 65 should be retained and amended as follows:
“The Speaker shall declare vacant the seat of any member of National Assembly who, having been elected to the National Assembly as a member of a political party, voluntarily ceases to be a member of that political party, or having been elected to the National Assembly as an Independent candidate, ceases to be an independent member.”
According to procedures, the proposal to amend the section in form of a bill can be introduced in Parliament by either the Executive branch through Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs or by any MP as a Private Members Bill.
Former speaker Richard Msowoya, in a telephone interview yesterday, pointed out that lawmakers may have been viewing the amendment as less important because independents are mostly born out of frustrations.
He explained that because of lack of intra-party democracy during primary elections and other unfair practices, such MPs join their mother parties after being elected.
In 2014, DPP which had 55 MPs beefed up its number with 10 independents while six independents joined main opposition MCP benches at the time when it had 48 lawmakers.
Eleven MPs from former ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) crossed the floor and joined DPP.
With such numerical strength in Parliament DPP, easily defeated some proposed bills, including electoral reforms, interest capping and the independence of Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
While agreeing with the recommendation by the Special Law Commission, legal and political experts say there is need to put systems in place before coming up with laws.
Political scientist Andrew Mpesi, in an interview, argued that when Section 64 was repealed, there was need to put in place other mechanisms which would make it possible for parties to be accountable to the electorates.
Agreeing with Mpesi, law expert Justin Dzonzi observed that resurrecting Section 64 would be more ideal as power would be vested in the constituents.
Dzonzi is also of the view that no ruling party would, however, be willing to amend Section 65 to apply to independent MPs, arguing that a party in power is the likely beneficiary of a pool of independents.
On his part, constitutional law expert Edge Kanyongolo suggested that the law needs to be amended in such a way that any member claiming to be crossing the floor on the request of his or her constituents need to submit written evidence to the Speaker.