Presidential race results in the May 21 Tripartite Elections have revived debate on the country’s electoral system with Public Affairs Committee (PAC) hinting on a board meeting to map the way forward on 50-plus-one and other electoral reforms.
In an interview yesterday in the wake of the results that saw President Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) retaining the presidency with 1 940 709 votes or 38.57 percent trailed by Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera with 1 781 740 votes (35.41 percent) and the country’s immediate past vice-president Saulos Chilima who led UTM Party ticket with 1 018 369 votes or 20.24 percent, PAC executive director Robert Phiri said the results should give Malawians food for thought to reflect on Parliament’s decisions in December 2017 to reject proposed Electoral Reforms Bills, including a proposal for 50-plus-one vote in the presidential race.
He said PAC, which championed the push for the reforms, still has a conviction that the country needs the reforms, but the system rejected them.
Said Phiri: “We are convening a board meeting this week to give us direction on how to move forward.
“We will continue to push for these reforms. Last year, the PAC board already adopted a resolution that we continue pushing for both electoral and constitutional reforms. So, we will continue doing that.”
Political, administrative and governance experts interviewed randomly yesterday said the results of the presidential race, which show that six in every 10 voters rejected the declared winner, were fruits of selfishness and greed by politicians who rejected proposed electoral reforms in 2017.
They argue that the statistics tell how the first-past-the-post system or winner-takes-all imposes on people leadership rejected by a majority.
In an interview yesterday, Happy Kayuni, professor of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, said the outcome of the presidential poll was expected.
He said: “We have a President who does not necessarily have a majority following. For the sake of
legitimacy, it is important that we should have a 50+1 rule. All Sadc [Southern African Development Community] countries are doing this. It is sad that Malawi decides to remain behind.
“Secondly, first-past-the-post has problems for minority parties. If we continue following this system, it will always reward winners and those who have not made it face extinction. What this system is doing to us is that we should probably have two or three major parties.”
Kayuni urged governance institutions to continue pushing for the reforms to have them re-tabled in Parliament and avoid a similar scenario in the 2024 elections.
In a separate interview, governance commentator Henry Chingaipe noted that if the legislative electoral reforms were adopted, they could have addressed the issue of a minority President and the exclusionary characteristic of the first-past-the-post electoral system.
A proposed amendment to the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act (PPEA) sought to give an additional 72 hours to resolve electoral complaints.
Chingaipe said the fear opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) had about a hurried swearing-in ceremony was real and informed by the experience of 2014 when similar things happened and swearing-in took place at the High Court on a Saturday morning.
He said: “We need to be raising more fundamental questions such as why is it that our electoral process often ends up as a judicial process? It suggests that there are structural and institutional deficiencies in the electoral process which we need to address.
“Proposals were made on the time necessary for the commission to determine results, but they were not adopted. Now we are back to the same issue of eight days.”
The reforms proposed a transition team comprising the Chief Secretary to the Government, Secretary to the Treasury, Commander of Malawi Defence Force, Inspector General of Police and not more than three persons each appointed by the incumbent and president-elect until the new President takes oath of office.
This transition team would have been in office during the 30 days the amendment to Section 81(3) of the Constitution for the swearing-in of President and Vice-President would have provided.
While not fully appreciating the reasoning behind the transition team, Chingaipe said what was critical was the period for declaring results, among others.
He said: “The most critical aspects that required address include the time for declaration of election results to ensure that MEC [Malawi Electoral Commission] has sufficient time to resolve complaints without pushing its responsibilities to the courts; a cooling off period and regulation for swearing-in of the president-elect and, in the case of government change, a legally binding procedure for handover between outgoing government and incoming government.”
Political scientist and academician Nandin Patel concurred with Chingaipe that some electoral reforms were not given the attention that they deserved.
She observed that Parliament shot down crucial proposals that would have addressed issues that cropped up in the May 21 election.
“But stakeholders are also to blame in this, not just Parliament. They did not lobby enough on the necessity of the reforms such as allowing for 30 days for MEC to attend to anomalies before announcing a winner,” said Patel.
On 50+1 which was also rejected, Chingaipe said in the event of one candidate obtaining less that 50 percent of the votes cast, a second round of voting would have taken place involving the top two candidates.
In its preliminary report, the Sadc Election Observation Mission (Seom) on the May 21 Tripartite Elections recommended that Malawi’s electoral laws still need to be reformed. The mission’s suggested areas of reform include appointment of MEC commissioners, period for voter registration and the role of the State broadcaster.
On the composition of MEC, the mission said while the commissioners are appointed by the President in consultation with leaders of the political parties represented in Parliament, “there is, however, need for the appointment process to be improved to enhance inclusivity, transparency and good governance”.
Reacting to the reality of first past-the-post, some political parties said in interviews they will push that the Electoral Reforms Bills be taken back to Parliament.
UTM Party director of publicity Joseph Chidanti-Malunga said the results are reflective of the unfortunate side of the country’s democracy.
He said: “Unfortunately that is how our democracy works. The winner takes it all regardless of the number. As of the Bill, you remember how hard we fought for this. Again, unfortunately, we didn’t have the numbers.
“As for UTM, we will work hard to rebuild the party and assist our members who have made it to Parliament.”
MCP officials could not be reached for a fresh comment, but Chakwera promised during campaign rallies that his party will bring back to Parliament the Electoral Reforms Bills.
He said: “As MCP, we approved the Bill during its consultation stage and we had high expectations that it would pass. However, we were let down by the very same people that brought it into Parliament.”
However, DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi said “the law of the land is what is there now” without committing anything as to whether his party would support the Bills or not.
Voting in the May 21 Tripartite Elections took place at 5 002 polling stations.
MEC chairperson Jane Ansah said out of 6 859 570 registered voters, 5 105 983 turned up for polling, representing 74.44 percent. She said there were 74 719 null and void votes.
Parliament did, however, enact an amendment to the Electoral Commission Act to change how commissioners are appointed to MEC. Under the new law, only political parties who secured more than one tenth of the national vote would submit a minimum of three names to the President to be considered as commissioners.