Time for the country to enact crucial electoral reforms which may be used in the 2019 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government elections is running out, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has said.
The MEC statement came as Parliament continued to deliberate on some of the Electoral Reforms Bills and on Thursday rejected two Bills, including the contentious 50+1 proposed amendment to the Constitution which sought to change the voting system from the current first-past-the-post system to 50 percent margin for the victorious candidate.
On Friday, addressing the National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting in Lilongwe, on MEC’s state of preparedness, MEC chairperson Justice Jane Ansah warned that there might not be enough time to enact the electoral reforms ahead of 2019.
“The commission has said this before, and it needs no emphasis, that time is of essence. If Parliament is passing any reforms, then they should be done in good time to allow the commission ample time to adjust some of its operations, but also to educate the electorate. Even stakeholders, such as political parties and CSOs, will also need ample time to adjust. It is internationally recommended that the electoral reforms should not be implemented at a time very close to the elections period.
“As we meet, today, we have one year, five months and five days to hold the tripartite elections. Every second counts. Our date for holding elections is fixed in the Constitution and we may not enjoy the luxury of other electoral management bodies where the date is proclaimed by the Head of State in consultation with the Commission.”
Opposition People’s Party secretary general Ibrahim Matola, in an interview, cast doubt on Friday on whether the Electoral Reforms Bills may resurface in time for MEC to approve them.
“Government brought to Parliament its own Bills, which were discussed and approved by Cabinet. The same government has shot them down. Looking at the electoral calendar, it is unlikely they will come back to the House after they were rejected. Government was just playing with Malawians, but I can’t rule out completely the return of the Bills at this point,” said Matola.
The Necof meeting came just as, across the capital city, Parliament continued shooting down Bill after Bill from the electoral reforms package.
Government’s commitment to the Bills was questioned from the start as they were only tabled to avert civil society and opposition backed street protests.
But the bills were adulterated, according to civil society groups, with government tampering with the recommendations of a Special Law Commission which had consulted for years on the Bills, introducing far-reaching changes to the wording of the Bills.
The changes, including extending the 50+1 provision to voting in Parliamentary and Local Government Elections and re-introduction of the Recall Provision for underperforming parliamentarians, was criticised by civil society as a ploy to defeat the Bills in Parliament.
On the general state of preparedness, Ansah said the MEC was making progress to be logistically and administratively ready for the elections, citing the use of the national IDs in national registration as one of the recent changes that will bring efficiency to the management of the elections.
She further said MEC has added 560 new polling centres across the country, started recruitment of election support staff such as master trainers, stringers, constituency civic and voter education assistants, procurement of materials for registration and reviewing the media code of conduct and function review. n