The Public Affairs Committee (PAC) on Friday said it regrets what it described as government’s conspiracy to frustrate its own Bills on electoral reforms and hinted that it will reignite mass demonstrations that were earlier called off.
PAC executive secretary Robert Phiri said in an interview on Friday that having seen the outcome of the deliberations in the House, the board will soon meet and direct the secretariat on when exactly the demonstrations can be held.
Said Phiri: “As a secretariat everything is ready. We have a minimum of 120 placards and reflectors for all the marchers countrywide. We have the banners, which are ready with the messages. So for us, it’s just a matter of the board’s resolution.”
The three Bills which government shot down are the Assumption of Office President (Transitional Arrangement) Bill, Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill and the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill. They were all shot down on Thursday and on Friday before the Second Reading.
Phiri further indicated that there were wide consultations on the Bills, using the civil society task force and that the shooting down of the Bills is regrettable and retrogressive to the advancement of democracy for the country.
But leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa observed that MPs were only expressing their democratic right and voted according to their conscience and understanding of the Bills.
On Friday, opposition political parties led by leader of opposition in the House, Lazarus Chakwera, grilled government front benches for taking Malawians for a ride and wasting hard earned taxpayers’ money by preparing the Bills only to turn around and shoot them down themselves.
Chakwera, who is also Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president described as “political circus” the conduct of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) MPs who were also supported by some legislators of the former ruling People’s Party (PP) and United Democratic Front (UDF) and some independent lawmakers.
Said Chakwera: “What we see is a Cabinet that does not express trust in its own President and a Cabinet that does not express trust in its own Minister of Justice. How do we proceed? We are also joining by expressing our mistrust of this government,” said Chakwera in his comments after the Bills were shot down.
Earlier, Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe, who seemed brave enough to take the bullets on behalf of government, was booed and showered with ridicule by opposition MPs, who did not relent in their quest to pass the Bills despite lacking numerical strength in the 193-member House.
Argued Gondwe: “There is a tendency to think that there is only one group of people [the opposition], who speak on behalf of the people of Malawi. That is wrong. We, on the government side, also care about Malawians.”
Former leader of PP in the House Uladi Mussa, who was among the MPs that rejected the Bills told, Weekend Nation in an interview that his party, as well as UDF, are in a working relationship with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and, therefore, people should stop judging them [wrongly] because as he put it, “in a democracy, it is allowed”.
Said Mussa: “I cannot hide. We had a meeting with President Mutharika and he said he’s offering us an olive branch that we should work together because PP, UDF and DPP were at one point one party, but because of disputes, misunderstandings and other frustrations, we ended up forming PP; but we are one family.”
Commenting on the developments, Justice Link executive director Justin Dzonzi said that being an independent branch of government it is not fair for Parliament to endorse everything that comes from the Executive.
But he was quick to add that the whole process was just a charade because the Executive did not want to table the Bills in the first place and were only pressurised to do so.
“Government knew that they didn’t want the Bills to pass and within its rank and file they worked out a scheme that would still secure them both victories. On one hand, by tabling the Bills, government looked like it has listened to the demands of the people and on the other, by ensuring that each and every Bill is shot down, then basically the Bills are exactly in the same position they would have been if they were not tabled at all.”
Asked on what will become of the Bills, the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament chairperson Maxwell Thyolera said, for now, all is lost to bring the Bills back into the House before the country goes to the polls in 2019. But he said, according to procedure, any Bill that has been rejected cannot be tabled again during the same session.
“We can only have the Bills tabled again after we wrap up the 47th session, so it is obvious that there is now nothing that we can do as MPs. Malawians have been robbed,” he said.
Meanwhile, People’s Party (PP) leader in Parliament Ralph Mhone has said parliamentarians have let down Malawians by not seriously deliberating, let alone, passing the Electoral Reforms (Amendment) Bills which could have solidified their democracy.
He singled out the ruling DPP as having ridden of immense pressure by initially feigning seriousness in taking the Bills to Parliament, only for the government side to unveil its strange trick of shooting down its own Bills.
“Government paid lip-service in fooling Malawians by tabling the Bills earlier this week. Its trickery of not having wanted the Bills to be passed, in the first place, came when the DPP and some opposition members voted against the processing of the Bills,” he lamented.
Mhone, who is a lawyer and Nkhata Bay Centre (PP) legislator, said if the government side were serious in processing the Bills, it could have not taken the Bills to Parliament in piece-meal fashion.
He noted that the government side also sabotaged the processing of the Bills by deliberately demanding, or supporting, division sessions which it easily won in open voting because of its numerical strength buoyed by votes canvassed from some opposition members.
Asked what PP’s official stand was regarding the Bills, Mhone said during its caucus on Tuesday, the party said its members should vote for processing and passing of the Bills.
But he said during the roll call, several of the party’s members were heard voting ‘no,’. At that point, he heaved a deep sigh and replied: “They were doing that against the party’s official stand.”
Asked what next Malawians should look forward to—regarding the Bills—Mhone said if the government sees the need, it could retable the Bills during the Mid-Term Budget sitting in February next year.
But he said Parliament’s great opportunity of meeting the people’s wishes has been lost by merely papering over a serious democratic assignment concerning the Bills.
He stressed that the Bills are important because they are expected to remove voting, ballot counting and transition challenges which nearly caused bloodshed and mayhem during the last tripartite general elections in 1994.
Mhone also hoped that government would ensure that the new laws would be made to apply during the forthcoming 2019 Tripartite General Elections.
In the face of immense pressure from opposition members, church leaders and officials from the civil society organisations, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu circulated two of the combo of six Bills in the House on Tuesday.
He tabled two other Bills on Thursday, which included the controversial one—of how the country should amend its Constitution to be electing its President with a 50+1 majority.
Wednesday’s tabling of part of the Electoral Reforms Bills happened on the very day PAC—the multi-faith human rights, democracy and accountability watchdog in Malawi—was to hold nation-wide demonstrations against government’s apparent reluctance to bring the Bills to the House.
PAC postponed the demonstrations on Tuesday, in the face of government’s assurances that two of the Bills would be circulated in Parliament later that day.
In another development, PP Chief Whip Ralph Jooma resigned from his post on Friday. In a letter to the Speaker, Jooma said he had done so due to personal reasons.