Political analysts and civil rights activists have hailed Public Affairs Committee (PAC) for postponing the planned December 13 nationwide demonstrations to push for the enactment of the Electoral Reforms Bills.
But the commentators have warned that contents in the new bill tackling the 50-plus-one system as presented by government pose fresh threats.
PAC, the multi-faith human rights, democracy and accountability watchdog, on Tuesday announced cancellation of Wednesday’s (Today) demonstrations and analysts whom Nation Online interviewed called for vigilance and urged attention to new details contained in the bills.
In his reaction, political commentator Henry Chingaipe on Tuedsay observed that by changing the text of the bills to extend the application of the principle of absolute majority to the election of members of Parliament (MPs) and councillors, Cabinet reneged on a well-founded principle of limited power in democratic political systems.
He said: “The principle of absolute majority in electoral systems does not apply to the election of individuals that are in their individual elected capacity inconsequential in the configuration and exercise of State power.
“An MP or a councillor does not by himself or herself make any decision that binds citizens in the present or future. They only do this by acting collectively sitting as an assembly or a council.
“This is unlike the President who is a singular veto player. It is for this reason that electoral systems in presidential systems are designed to assimilate and reflect the principle of absolute majority.”
Nandin Patel, a political scientist who also sat on the Special Law Commission on Electoral Reforms that consulted on and recommended the reforms, described the changes to the bills as against the spirit of the recommendations.
She said: “The changes to 50+1 are not in the spirit of the Law Commission’s recommendations of 2016/17 and that of the report of the Constitutional Review of 2007.
“Extending 50+1 to other elected offices is impractical and has never been discussed or consulted upon. One can wonder the intentions behind tabling this. The fears are totally justified.”
Mzuzu-based civil society activist Charles Kajoloweka, whose organisation supported PAC’s now suspended demonstrations, said the country should shift focus to Parliament where threats to the bill are still eminent.
He said: “I strongly agree with PAC. Any action has to be guided by principles.
“I find the decision to be very objective, government has responded adequately to our demands. My strong view and caution is that we should not relent.”
In Lilongwe, among several civil society leaders who threw their weight behind the demos, Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) executive director Gift Trapence, while welcoming the decision by PAC, also called for vigilance.
He said: “We are not against PAC’s decision to postpone the protests. Our position is that PAC should be cautious. Tabling the bills in Parliament is something else and passing them is also another daunting task.”
Trapence hinted that Malawians would directly hold PAC responsible for the fate of the bills, saying: “Malawians have huge expectations from PAC. Malawians are also expecting PAC to engage government on other problems that they are facing such as electricity, water shortages, and also rampant corruption.”
PAC member Father Fanuel Malango told journalists the organisation was now banking its hopes on Parliament to ensure the bills are handled in a mature manner.
Earlier, PAC chairperson Reverend Felix Chingota told journalists that at its board meeting in Lilongwe on Monday a decision was made to shelve the demonstrations, but acknowledged concerns over the wording of the bills.
He said PAC will monitor events in the National Assembly and may review the protests option.
The chairperson said the decision to pull off the protests was taken unilaterally and independently in recognition of the Executive’s living up to its end of the bargain following PAC’s earlier petition to the Executive to table the bills or risk demonstrations.
Said Chingota: “Members took time to examine the above requests and noted that five out of six bills have been debated this week. It was, however, observed that the government brought some new changes to the bills, especially on 50+1 which now extends to MPs and councillors. We note this was not part of the Law Commission report.”
PAC called for the December 13 demonstrations to press for the Electoral Reforms Bills, but later added other governance issues including an end of ruling party monopoly of the State broadcasters.