The clergy under a banner of Public Affairs Committee (PAC) joined by their flock yesterday marched to Parliament Building and petitioned President Peter Mutharika and Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya to ensure tabling of Electoral Reforms Bills.
The influential quasi-religious group that champions adherence to human rights principles, transparency and accountability has given authorities up to next Wednesday to have the Bills tabled or face nationwide street protests.
PAC chairperson the Reverend Dr Felix Chingota presented the petitions which were first read out. The two petitions—one to the President and the other to the Speaker—carried a similar message, except for points of emphasis in a few paragraphs.
The thrust of the message was that government should ensure that it tables, in the current meeting of Parliament, a set of six Bills collectively called Electoral Reforms Bills, which includes the recommended 50+1 percent requirement in declaring winner of the presidential election.
Other demands included:
- That government tables the Local Government Act (Amendment) Bill, including the removal of the voting power of members of Parliament (MPs) at council level.
- Ensure the reforms are tabled by November 29 this year, failing which PAC will hold a peaceful nationwide march.
- Ensure that government prioritises the Electoral Reforms Bills, so that they are completed during the current sitting; and,
- Ensure that government upholds the will of Malawians, saying ignoring the people’s will would be tantamount to suffocating constitutionalism and the collective will of Malawians who put leaders into their respective positions.
Receiving the petition addressed to the President, Lilongwe City Council (LCC) chief executive officer (CEO) Charles Makanga said he will deliver it to the relevant authorities on time.
On the other hand, receiving the petition on behalf of the Speaker, chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament, Maxwell Thyolera, said his committee was ready to discuss the reforms as soon as they are presented to them.
He said: “We are waiting for the Business Committee to bring the Bills in Parliament. As members of Parliament and as the Legal Affairs Committee, we are ready to debate the Bills in Parliament and consequently turn them into laws.”
At the start of the march, there was a rare sight as senior leaders of various Christian denominations, the Muslim community and other faith shook hands and hugged. They were resplendent in their robes, gowns and collars.
Female marchers in church cloths or colourful hijabs also turned out in large numbers to accompany their faith leaders.
Heavily armed police officers followed and watched the marchers all the way to Parliament.
However, a noticeable hitch to the event was that the marchers were kept waiting for over 30 minutes before the relevant recipients pitched up to receive the petitions.
The Bills at the heart of the electoral reforms have been some of the most debated, as Malawians try to avoid the old electoral processes which nearly brought about chaos in Malawi’s general elections in 2014.
PAC, the Law Commission and some civil society organisations (CSOs) have been consulting different stakeholders, including government, to solicit views of Malawians on the proposed electoral reforms.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu promised in Parliament that the Electoral Reforms Bills would be tabled in the House during this current sitting. But since then, there seems to be no firm move in this direction, with the government saying this will be possible after Cabinet reviews the Bills.
The Electoral Reforms Bills include an amendment of Section 80(2) of the Constitution and Section 96 (5) of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act proposing 50+1 percent majority in presidential election and an amendment of Section 81 (3) of the Constitution for swearing-in of the President and Vice-President to be done after 30 days. n