Representatives of opposition parties in Parliament’s Business Committee have asked for an extension of the current meeting of the National Assembly to allow more time for debate and processing of the Electoral Reforms Bills.
The opposition representatives made the request during a meeting of the Business Committee—comprising leadership of political parties represented in Parliament and chaired by the Speaker of the National Assembly—at Parliament Building in Lilongwe yesterday.
Initially, the ongoing first meeting of the 47th Session of Parliament was set to end on December 15 this year.
Responding to the request, Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa, who is also Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, said he needed more time to consult.
He said: “We will consult within government circles to see how best that issue can be handled because the business we are tackling now and the five weeks we are dealing with now was budgeted for. For MPs to meet just for a week they spend at least K200 million, if we have resources then we will meet.”
Mid-morning yesterday, opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) members of Parliament (MPs), who on Monday walked out of Parliament in protest against government’s failure to table Electoral Reforms Bills, curtailed their boycott and returned to the House led by party president and leader of opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera.
In announcing the proposed extension, First Deputy Speaker Esther Mcheka Chilenje told the House that the Business Committee had sought an extension of parliamentary proceedings beyond December 15.
She said: “I wish to inform the House that after the meeting, the following transpired; government informed the committee that so far two bills are ready and will be circulated by 7th December 2017, thus the Electoral Commission Act [Amendment] and Referendum bills.”
Mcheka Chilenje said a third bill in the set, Transitional Arrangement Bill, might also be circulated pending tabling.
In an interview after lunch break, Chakwera said the opposition will attend the meetings until Thursday when the said bills are expected to be tabled. He, however, said they have lost confidence in government.
He said: “I indicated why we needed an extension of time. The reason is the bills to be read do not have the same significance as those not yet ready in terms of 2019 elections. I have indicated to our colleagues to expedite their consultations for the Speaker to give a comprehensive report on progress.”
In a Report on the Review of the Electoral Laws to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in March this year, the Malawi 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.
Government has come under pressure from opposition and civil society organisations (CSOs) to table the bills as promised by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu in June.
Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a quasi-religious organisation, has since organised nationwide protest marches to push for the enactment of the proposed laws in the current meeting of Parliament. The demonstrations are set for December 13. n