With the December 13 planned nationwide protests fast approaching, presidential aide Mavuto Bamusi on Sunday met the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) in a bid to give hope that the Electoral Reforms Bills could be tabled before the protests.
Bamusi, who is President Peter Mutharika’s adviser on civil society (CSOs) and non-government organisations (NGOs), called for the meeting with PAC executive director Robert Phiri as the influential multi-faith quasi-religious human rights, democracy and accountability watchdog continues to get support for the protests to push for the tabling of the bills which include adoption of a 50-plus-one system of choosing the country’s President to enhance credibility.
Both Bamusi and Phiri confirmed what Nation Online had earlier learnt from sources that they held the meeting at PAC secretariat in Lilongwe.
The two said the main agenda was the issue of Electoral Reforms Bills and Local Government Act (LGA) reforms.
While Bamusi said the meeting was part of an interface between government and PAC, impeccable sources confided in Nation Online that the presidential aide was delegated by Mutharika to discuss with the quasi-religious body whether it would call off the protests should government table the Bills before December 13.
But Bamusi said: “The crucial message was to remind PAC of the belief government has in as far as engagement and dialogue is concerned. So, the meeting was a continuation of our interactions.
“Government does not believe in conflicts with PAC. It considers the religious grouping and the entire faith groups as friends and partners in development.”
The presidential aide’s statement came barely days after Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development Grace Chiumia told a political rally at Mpherembe in Mzimba West Constituency that the Mutharika administration does not support the electoral reforms. She also described PAC’s decision to hold the marches as “a ploy to confuse Malawians”.
Her remarks followed what Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu earlier said that government was not accountable to PAC and that their action, including the nationwide demonstrations, would not change anything.
But yesterday Bamusi told The Nation the meeting with PAC was to give “the highest assurance” that the process of ensuring the Bills are tabled in Parliament will start in earnest.
He said government was in support of implementing the bills which emanate from the fact that it is Mutharika’s administration that is implementing the broader set of reforms under the Public Sector Reforms.
Said Bamusi: “I would urge Malawians that in as far as statements made previously are concerned, let us look ahead and not dwell or read too much into such statements. Government respects the demands made by the religious bodies as it is accountable to all Malawians, including CSOs and the religious community.”
On his part, Phiri said: “Basically, he [Bamusi] hinted on the positive move government wishes to consider on the reform issues sometime this week.”
However, Phiri said despite government’s move, the planned peaceful marches would proceed as planned “unless otherwise stated by the PAC board of governance”.
In principle, Phiri indicated that the PAC board had agreed to proposals to have the marches held in all the country’s 28 districts. The body had initially announced that the marches would only take place in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba.
He also said the matter was not only about the electoral reforms, but the inclusion of 50 percent-plus-one as it was one of the benchmarks.
Said Phiri: “We are looking at reforms as a package.”
In yesterday’s edition, Nation Online quoted Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa as stating that government was set to present to the Business Committee today or tomorrow two of the six bills that make up the Electoral Reforms Bills as recommended by the Malawi Law Commission. The two are Electoral Commission Act (Amendment) Bill and Referendum Bill.
The Law Commission recommended the following Bills collectively called Electoral Reforms Bills: Constitution (Amendment), Electoral Commission (Amendment), Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act (PPEA) and Local Government Elections Act, Assumption of the Office of President (Transitional Arrangement) and Referendum.
The most contentious of the Bills relate to the amendment of Section 80 (2) of the Constitution and Section 96 (5) of the PPE Act to provide for a change of the electoral system from a simple majority to a majority of more than 50 percent in the presidential race.
The Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill as proposed by the Special Law Commission recommends the enactment of the Elections Management Fund to ensure Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is financially autonomous.
It also proposes changes in the appointment of the MEC chairperson as well as composition of the commissioners.
The Referendum Bill, on the other hand, aims to introduce legislation on how to conduct a referendum as one does not exist currently.