‘You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time’ — Abraham Lincoln
During the first quarter of the year 2017 Appellate Justice Anthony Kamanga, SC and his Team Special Law Commission on the review of the electoral laws, gave its report that resounded with great hope for Malawians; and complete with a section that provides for a “women only ballot” in every district. The Review pot had other goodies like the 50+ 1 and the change in inauguration of the president among others.
The report highlighted that the “call to reform laws that regulate the administration and management of elections was long overdue and spans almost two decades. People were thirsty for change. With each passing electoral cycle, the intensity of the call for change has increased,” the preface of the review report categorically states
The Special Law Commission on the review of the electoral laws, chaired by Justice Kamanga, SC presented its report on 3rd day of April, 2017, gave Malawians hope for an improvement in the manner in which elections are to be conducted in the country. The special Law Commission was appointed
under section 133 of the constitution to review electoral laws in Malawi And had 19 empaneled persons representing numerous relevant sectors including gender, media, academia, human rights, and the faith communities, and government representatives. In executing its mandate, the law commission carried out public consultations regarding any law under review to ensure transparency and encourage participation from the general public. Among organizations that took part were the Malawi electoral Support network (MESN), National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) and Public Affairs Committee (PAC); these made recommendations, and weighed in with various consultations, advocacy, and negotiations that culminated to a national call for protest marches when it appeared government would not table the bills.
The special electoral review commission, presented a number of well-deliberated and negotiated Bills for Government’s consideration. Please take note, the term Government is in reference to the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government; sadly, many times, the term is taken to mean the executive branch only.
The special review commission presented the executive several bills among them bills such as the Presidential, Parliamentary and local Government elections act, that is a consolidation and harmonization of Presidential and Parliamentary elections act, and the local Government elections act; included in the bill is a clause that stipulates among others that there must be a slate in every district that is reserved for women (a clause that would ensure that at least 28 seats are secured for women); the review also presented clauses dealing with the percentage of voters in a presidential election (the 50 +1 clause that says a president to rule, he or she must muster 50 + 1 percent of the people present and voting); and because there is no legislation that regulates the transition from one administration to another following the holding of general elections, the commission presented a bill that proposed the length of time before swearing in the president; the independence of the electoral commission and the appointments of commissioners, and constitution (amendment) bill contains amendments aimed at “putting into effect reforms that are deemed critical to the electoral process but which may not be effected without consequential amendments to the constitution.” Etc.
These were a brilliant set of bills, that came complete with the referendum bill, “proposed to provide for the statutory framework for the holding of referenda in Malawi in line with section 89 (1) (i) of the constitution.” It proposed legislation that provides for, among others, matters which may be the subject of a referendum; restrictions on referendum; and the conduct of a referendum.
What democratic-believing person or party would say no to these well-crafted bills, expertly and widely deliberated and negotiated? What, if anything, is wrong with these bills? Do they need tinkering and or tampering, in order for them to be passed into law? Lastly, how does the executive branch present bills and then go out and buy/purchase votes from the opposition parliamentarians to kill its own bills; which incidentally it tinkered and tampered with?
These are questions that both Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu and Chief Whip Kondwani Nankhumwa must answer for Malawians to know.
Specific mention is made on the 50+1 and women only ballots at the 28 districts: the amendments that would bring Malawi closer to democratic change Malawians have cried for but those cries have fallen on deaf ears for over 20 years. The mandate to govern is really never there when a candidate rolls into the presidency with less than 50 percent of the electorate voting for him or her. With an overcrowded ballot, presidents have done just that – become president with a paltry percentage of voters. The review asks that first past the post has not worked well for our young democracy; the suggestion of 50 + 1 is good; I would go further and suggest that any candidate that fails this, must go for a coalition government. This would entail, not the wishy-washy prostituting of politicians, but real coalition where the winning candidate reaches out to the whole party in the opposition, to enable him or her form a government.
The 50 + 1 clause is really only sensible for the presidential candidate. But the Mutharika administration killed all hopes of parliamentarian support for this when it amended proposed bill with a clause that the 50 + 1 be applied to parliamentarians and counsellors. This is the big corrupting of the proposed bill that most parliamentarians stayed away from (only 50 in favor against 100, several stay-a ways). The 50 + 1 clause does not make sense and it is not needed in the parliamentary and counsellor sections of the elections because they don’t need to cross that threshold to “form a government.”
The women only ballot slot in every district was a powerful statement for inclusive government. In the days when former President Kamuzu Banda had the power to nominate parliamentarians, he never nominated sufficient numbers for his own variety of reasons. In democratic Malawi, women have been at the back end of the winning ticket, with men out-maneuvering them through “all-boy networks,” and access to resources and funding issues, the biggest hurdle sometimes being women just plain not voting for another woman.
If the women only ballot for all the 28 districts of Malawi became part of the electoral law, it meant at every cycle, 28 women were guaranteed as the starting point of number of women in the august house. Women compete against women. How good that sounds.
It is uncanny, astounding and bewildering that the executive branch of the Malawi government would allow for the empaneling of a special law commission on electoral review, spend millions of tax-payer moneys to finance the multi-year review process, and then frustrate the process in parliament, buy opposition members of parliament and vote against its own bill that it has corrupted.
Mutharika administration is charged:
- a) It lavished MK200, 000.00 per MP from opposition camp that voted No for the Bills. It used money from our taxes; trying to form alliances with unlikely political parties with the People’s Party. This is an unlikely alliance because the DPP continues to persecute its founding president. The PP is also an unlikely alliance because discussions were held with members that are not part of the leadership or the president of the party.
All the talk of Uladi Mussa being quoted that the PP will form an alliance with the DPP is questionable, because he does not hold any position. Alliance like the one the UDF has with the DPP was formed after party presidents (Muluzi and Mutharika) held discussions. There have not been, there does not seem to be likely any of such talks that will take place between PP and DPP presidents (Banda and Mutharika).
- b) the Mutharika administration inserted 2 highly unacceptable clauses i) 50+ to be applied up and down the ballot – president, MPs and counsellors; ii) recall provision that has been twice failed to pass in the Parliament. It is a highly contentious clause that the voters want, but parliamentarians dislike and do not ever wish to be subjected.
These two clauses, made the bills as presented by the executive branch, unpalatable, even for the MPs that had threatened to storm out of parliament if the bills were not discussed.
It is at this juncture that the opposition can rightly be labeled to be of a very short-lived relevance. Equally of short-lived relevance is the Public Affairs Committee. The opposition parties, because the bills as presented in parliament were the corrupted version. We expected the opposition to stand on a point of order, or at the very least, demand that the bills be amended to reflect the correct versions of the presented bills by the special commission.
The PAC, in an unheard of and bizarre mode, as thousands and maybe even millions of people were rallied to march for a cause, cancelled and turned away demonstrators before the desired result (the passage of the electoral reform bills). It called off the nation-wide demonstrations before the vote was given. This is similar to a farmer counting his or her chickens before the eggs are hatched.
Chief Whip Nankhumwa, from the Renouncer of Democracy Inc., crackled his money-clad whip and argues that MPs that voted against the bills were only expressing their democratic right and voted according to their conscience.
Nankhumwa, who is also Local Government and Rural Development Minister, promised that the Executive would ensure that all outstanding Bills and other business were dealt with expeditiously and that the ‘tabling’ of the Electoral Reform Bills alone was a loud demonstration that the Executive listens to the people of Malawi.
“We are committed that we fulfill the wishes and aspirations of the people of Malawi. It is our firm resolve as Government to continue to enhance democratic governance in Malawi and jealously preserve the democratic gains made since Malawians chose political pluralism in 1993. We shall ensure that the Executive continues to be genuinely accountable to the people of Malawi through the Legislature,” he said.
How is democracy doing in Malawi? It is a poor shoddy affair. MPs are supposed to vote according to the wishes of the people who put them there, not according to who lines their pockets or dishes out ministerial positions or according to their conscious!
To the executive and the legislative branches of the government, Malawians stand in line electing you to office; they are not fools, they are not paupers; they are not beggars; they are not to be taken for granted. They voted you in power and they can vote you out of power; they are your employers.
Just because you are in office, it does not make you the only people that are knowledgeable about the laws of Malawi. The parliament and the executive members of government, insulted Malawians by explaining the process of introducing bills and passing laws. Although you are in office, there are many of us who are not in office BUT know the processes because we were there crafting the laws you seek to educate us about; you have your lawyers, but there are many lawyers who can also interpret the laws who are not in elected positions.
Please do not lecture us.
The opposition failed the people and the cause. How did it vote for the corrupted version presented by executive? The DPP administration can now present a series of untruths, like the law was unacceptable; or that it is more responsive to people’s desires than the opposition.
The PAC should never have cancelled the marches at the eleventh hour. The march should have gone on. You should never allow for last minute deals. The last-minute dialogue stage had passed.
The nation was behind you full-throttle, and you cancel. You were hood-winked to the hilt. People were fired up for the march; and you disappointed them.
Alas democracy is on high alert risk in my Malawi!