17 February 2017

Malawi Govt Rejects Electoral Reforms Bill - Opposition Wants to Tackle Rigging

Photo: Brian Dell
Lilongwe (file photo).

Government members of parliament managed to hold the opposition from passing the Electoral reforms bill.

Lilongwe South MP Peter Dimba presented the contentious bill to the House on Thursday but the government side rejected it, saying a serious bill of national importance could not be presented by a member of parliament as a private motion. Government chief whip Henry Mussa also argued that the Malawi Law Commission was tackling the very same issues.

"Whilst it may seem to be a very good bill, I am simply saying that we do have an authority in Malawi, that is the Malawi Law Commission which is charged with responsibility of these kinds of reforms," said Mussa.

He said there was need for "wider consultations" on the bill.

"How many has the Private Member consulted in this matter? I doubt very much, take it from me. I am from Chiradzulu East Constituency; my chiefs have no idea about this, and the academia have no idea, even the Law Society of Malawi has no idea about this.

"Who are you talking to, your family? I repeat, Mr Speaker, Sir, only not long ago a very renowned political analyst from Chancellor College [Boniface Dulani] cautioned the whole House to say slow down, you cannot approach these reforms piece meal as we are doing. Why don't you be patient and allow the Malawi Law Commission to do its job?"

Mussa said MP Dimba was shown a time table on Wednesday on how Law Commission are proceeding with these reforms.

"I do not understand, why the rush? Why can't we be patient and do the right thing? It is a very good bill but the way it is being approached, it is upside down and I oppose its passing," said Mussa.

But his commnents attracted a point of order from MCP's Salima North West MP Jessie Kabwila saying it is out of order "to sit here and listen to a government question active citizenship. I think what we have just seen in that bill is something we should be encouraged."

Kabwila added: "To say who we are you talking belittles the person who has just tabled it here. Who we are talking to are the people who were tabling this, those who have been voting, those are the people we have talked to. What is out of order is to see a government that does not see that we need to rush, there is a lot of rush because we have had stolen election in this country.

"There is a need to rush because we have that we have ended up with stolen votes, burnt votes and definitely we needed to have done this yesterday. For me it is out of order to behave as if we do not need to treat this with urgency. There is need to rush."

After a series of votes, the government side garnered its numbers, others from independent legislators and prevented Dimba from making concluding remarks on the bill as the government side came in full force to refuse curtailment of debate. The debate therefore rumbled on until knocking off time.

When an opposition MP stood to seek for the extension of the seating time, the motion was crashed and the defeated opposition members of parliament walked out of the House with shoulders low amid mockery and sacarsim from the elated government back benchers.

Dimba, among others, proposed to remove district commissioners as poll managers, president should be sworn in after 21 days, tally centres be instituted in constituencies where vote results should be announced.

The highly charged House proved that the issue was more of political than normal parliament business.

Opposition Malawi Congress Party and Peoples Party allege the ruling Democratic Progress Party stole votes in 2014, an allegation vehemently denied by the President Peter Mutharika administration.

The leader of PP Uladi Mussa said for "purpose of records" for the House, he has never experienced what happened when government vehemently that making laws should be left to the Malawi Law Commission.

"I have been here in this House since 17th May, 1994. I have never seen any bill being blocked at second reading without hearing the views of the presenter. What are these people rejecting? What were they rejecting, because they did not hear the views of the presenter? You hear the views, then you disagree, not rejecting before the bill is presented. I have never seen this. I want to put it on record," said Mussa.

MCP 's Dedza East MP Juliana Lunguzi said the House was dragging over an issue that is pertinent.

"Come 2019, they will all be crying that somebody has tampered with their votes at the tally centre," she said of the government backbenchers who opposed the bill.

Minister of Justice Samuel Tembenu asked for patience on the electoral reforms process which he said would be completed on March 31, 2017.

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