Malawi approach on electoral reforms worrisome – PAC

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…act could lead to elections disputes

The Public Affairs Committee (PAC) says failure by Malawi to pass new electoral laws is recipe for election disputes in the forthcoming elections.

This comes months after Members of Parliament (MPs) shot down the electoral reforms bills that included the controversial 50+1 system of electing the president.

Rev. Felix Chingota

Rev. Felix Chingota: The electoral reforms have not been pursued in the manner we anticipated.

But according to the quasi-religious grouping, the opposition that the bills faced has put the nation in yet again a room for election related disputes in 2019.

‘’The 50%+1 was the reform that was recommended in all three regions during the federalism debate as a mechanism to reduce disputes and realize legitimacy. It is possible with the stifling of critical reforms that the same scenario would emerge again during 2019 elections and beyond,” said PAC Chairperson, Rev. Dr. Felix Chingota during an interface meeting with the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) at in Lilongwe on Wednesday.

He added: ‘’The electoral reforms have not been pursued in the manner we anticipated. The deliberate failure to pass reforms is a trigger to disputes and electoral violence especially if there will be a narrow margin between the leading candidate and the second – as was the case in 2014.

“It is in this spirit that as for us we have always treated 50%+1 as a conflict prevention mechanism, and indeed reforms relating to declaration of results and swearing-in of the winner are key for minimizing electoral disputes.’’

The 50+1 vote proposed law is meant to see the country receding from the winner-takes-it-all scenario of electing the president.

With the new system, the winning president will have to amass at least 50+1 percent of the national vote.

In previous elections, Malawi was using the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) or winner-takes-all system to elect president, Members of Parliament (MPs) and ward councillors.

In the run-off system, if no candidate reaches the required rate during the first poll, a run-off will have to be held in which two presidential candidates who obtained the highest and second highest number of valid votes cast should be the only candidates.

Unfortunately, when the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Amendments Bill was tabled in Parliament, it was only but shot down by 97 to 62 votes.

The 2014 elections were marred by irregularities linked to voter verification, insufficient materials among others hence some parties like the exiting People’s Party (PP) protested the results.

According to Chingota, MEC has an uphill task to ensure there are smooth polls next year saying PAC has also lined up several activities to support that course.

Some of the lined up activities by PAC are to enhance social cohesion in Malawi through advocacy, lobbying and dialogue facilitation, holding three PAC governance meetings to examine strategies and contents of Peace Accord and circulating one drafted document to presidential candidates for their comments.

In her response, MEC Chairperson Jane Ansah said it remains hard for them to drag any ideas in the electoral reforms bills because of lack of the legality of such a course of action.

‘’The Malawi Electoral Commission is mandated to administer elections in accordance with the law. Its entire mandate is provided under the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi and other Acts of Parliament passed specifically to govern elections.

“The Commission does not have mandate to propagate a particular system of government. The Commission operates within the law. Any piece of law or legislation that is passed by Parliament that relates to the conduct of elections is most certainly going to be applied by the Commission,’’ she said.

On execution of smooth and fair polls, the electoral body said it has made recommendations which will lead to a realization of this.

Among these recommendations are aligning the voter registration age to what is provided in the constitution that a person eligible to vote is a person who is at least 18 years old at the date of registration; that candidates must obtain at least 100 signatures from registered voters per each district for purposes of nomination for presidential elections  and 100 signatures from registered voters per constituency for purposes of nomination for parliamentary elections; and for the Commission to be given a discretion to determine the period of Registration and minimum number of days the Commission can stay at a Registration Centre.

Malawi heads to its second running tripartite elections next year to vote into power the President, MPs and Ward Councillors.

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