Parliament, notably the government side, has rejected two of the Electoral Reforms Bills that Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu tabled in Parliament yesterday.
The opposition has since described the development as a betrayal of Malawians and a vote of no confidence for the President and Cabinet who endorsed the bills. The opposition further said Tembenu was a sacrificial lamb.
But political and social commentator Henry Chingaipe observed that in the first place, government did not want the bills; hence, has done everything in its effort to frustrate the whole process.
He disputed suggestions that Tembenu is a sacrificial lamb, saying: “It is part of their [government’s] plan because they know that they are large in numbers; hence, they would defeat the whole process in Parliament.”
In the first bill, Assumption of Office of President (Transitional Arrangement), the ‘no’ votes from the government were 97 against 65 ‘yes’ votes from the opposition while on the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill, 97 government side MPs voted against the Bill proceeding compared to 64 from the opposition and 29 absentees.
First to be rejected after the second reading was the Assumption of Office of President (Transitional Arrangement) Bill which created a transition team comprising Chief Secretary to the Government, Secretary to the Treasury, Commander of Malawi Defence Force, Inspector General of Police and not more than three persons appointed by the incumbent and president-elect.
There was little justification from the government side on the reasons for denying the Bill from going further than second reading even as there was little contribution from the government benches on the Bill.
In the afternoon, the government again curtailed the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill which has harmonised the two electoral legislations in line with the provision for a tripartite election in the Constitution.
Leader of opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera expressed his confusion and frustration when he reminded the House that mandate to bring bills and policies to the House rested with the government and the same could not reject its own propositions.
He said: “I want to seek your direction and indulgence in understanding what is happening here. They are sacrificing their own President and Minister of Justice. Here is a Cabinet that says it is ready to present bills to Parliament and the same Cabinet rejects the bills. This is betrayal of the highest order. They have betrayed Malawians.”
People’s Party leader in Parliament Ralph Mhone said by rejecting the bills, the government was admitting that it had misled Malawians in proposing and tabling bills that they themselves did not want.
Salima North West MP Jessie Kabwila (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) described what was happening as a government being held hostage and whose decisions could not be trusted.
But the unfazed government side through chief Whip Henry Mussa said the Cabinet held dual roles and were voting with their conscious. He could not however explain the government MPs rejecting a government bill.
Tabling the Bill and appealing for support on both sides, Tembenu said the Bill would remove discrepancies in the two laws to provide for a new legislation that would be easily accessible and provide clarity on governing rules for candidates.
Both bills received support from the opposition while some from the government outrightly rejected the bill on the basis of certain provision such as minimum qualifications for candidates.
Maxwell Thyolera, MCP spokesperson in Parliament on legal matters, lauded the government for ensuring credible eligibility of presidential candidates who would be required to solicit 100 signatures from every district before they are nominated.
Mhone also said a period of 72 hours for suspending the determination of results pending investigation into anomalies was too short.
The MPs, however, did not speak against the Clause 94 (5) that 50+1 system to determine the winning candidate would extend to MPs and councillors.
In an interview, Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa dismissed sentiments that Cabinet has shown no confidence vote on Tembenu, saying what transpired in the House reflected the will of the people.
He said: “What the opposition is saying is just a mere speculation because who can tell that there is a vote of no confidence in the minister? This is not the first time that a bill has been defeated in the House. Each and every member has voted according to his or her own conscious, there was debate.” n