The only official national referendum that I am aware happened in this country was in 1993 when the question was: Should Malawi adopt multi-party politics or should it remain as a one party state? I was not able to vote that year and to be frank I do not know how I would have voted.
I know saying this makes some people to judge me and perhaps suggest that I was or I am undemocratic, unpatriotic and retrogressive and that I am all the negatives that society can know of. I do not have any problem with that assessment. The problem, however, is that we do not know how else any person who voted cast their vote. In this country, we have no record of how people vote at elections.
It is understandable if you contend that the late Chakufwa Chihana and Edward Bwanali, Bakili Muluzi, Harry Thomson, Matembo Mzunda, Alufeyo Chilibvumbo, Collins Chizumila, Cassim Chulumpha voted for multi-party politics. I could also understand if you said Nicholas Dausi, Louis Chimango, John Tembo and the late Charles Kamphulusa voted to maintain the one-party state under the Malawi Congress Party. But for me, I just donâ€™t know how people voted. John Tembo may have voted against the one-party state he defended furiously on the public podium. There is just nowhere to tell what were the voting choices among the people. It is what we have all understood as voti ndi mumtima.
What I am driving at is to talk about the proposed national referendum that some among us have been agitating for that would potentially allow the citizens to answer the question as to whether President Mutharika should continue and complete his second term of office or he must be stopped. The weakness of our rules, as some have already talked about, is simple: The President himself has the authority to call for such a national referendum. I bet the incentives to call for a national referendum by the President do not exist. There are huge differences between when Kamuzu called for a referendum and now.
Between 1999 and 2001, I was part of the team that was drafting or discussing the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (MPRSP) and The Vision 2020 Strategy. Interestingly, these terms are not in vogue now. My point here is that the MPRSP makes reference to “Maternal mortality rate” and quotes a figure which was supposed to be the maternal mortality rate. I raised my hand at a meeting at Capital Hotel and argued that what was being talked about and the number was actually the maternal mortality RATIO and not a RATE. I made a written submission to the main drafting committee. When the final MPRSP document was produced, it contained a maternal mortality rate and not the RATIO.
I feel some sense of impotence when it comes to the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi as well as some major laws and regulations in this country. We recognise that we can have a referendum but did not think as to how the citizens can force the same. Shame.