Malawi: No Need to Change 50 Percent+1 Law for June 23 Malawi Voting Day - Opposition

Malawi President Peter Mutharika (file photo).

The opposition lawmakers said they rejected a Constitutional Amendment Bill brought by government because there was no need to change the country's supreme laws to hold the court-sanctioned fresh presidential elections on June 23 after the House had already passed resolutions on the said polling date.

Leader of opposition in Parliament Lobin Lowe justified the snub of the bill, saying the opposition already table the motion after noting that the government side was not forthcoming on the election date, therefore no need to amend the Constitution.

"We have set the date and its June 23, done. No need to complicate things by changing Constitution. That can be done later to align the next election date," he said.

"We have shot the Bill considering that the one to assent to it is a conflicted member. The President is a candidate and we cannot assign important issues of Parliament to a member who is conflicted; that's why we thought it wise that the motion that was passed yesterday should stand.

"And I would like to request MEC to gazette the date, the sooner the better because we have all agreed; it's only maybe the route that was different but on date all of us are talking of 23rd June," said Lowe.

Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Ben Phiri insisted that the House ought to amend the Constitution to set the June 23 date for fresh polls, saying what happened on Tuesday (setting the date) amounts to "raping the procedure."

But opposition stuck to their guns.

Dowa East member of Parliament (MP) Richard Chimwendo Banda (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) said the Bill tabled by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Bright Msaka was tantamount to confusion because it had proposed that MPs decide between simple majority (first past the post) and the 50-percent-plus-one majority in determining the winner, a proposal which sharply contradicts the recent interpretation of majority by the Constitutional Court and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal.

"We will not allow to remove a statement in the Constitution and we are not buying the tactics government is doing. They clearly indicated in this Bill the possibility of removing 50-percent-plus-one which is already there in the Constitution.

"The changes the minister is making have just been brought now. We haven't seen them. The rules of the House demand that any tangible amendment must be circulated within 24 hours.

"The Supreme Court already told us to set a date and we did that yesterday [Tuesday]. There is no need to amend the Constitution."

Alliance for Democracy (Aford) member of parliament for Mzimba North, Yeremiah Chihana, who moved the motion on Tuesday and was adopted by the House to have fresh elections on June 23, said the Constitutional amendment bill tabled by Msaka "has no place in Malawi."

He said: "The judgement of the Supreme Court was very clear that we are not going to amend the Constitution except the motion."

A law professor Garton Kamchezera from Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi (Unima), said that indeed the proposed constitutional amendment was not necessary after June 23 polling date resolution was adopted by the House.

He said the proposed amendment can come on the floor after the election be looked at "soberly."

But Msaka said it is government's intention that the polls be held on June 23 but in line with the Constitution so that they are credible, free and fair to avoid the 2019 scenario of court battles.

The High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court on February 3 nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election over irregularities, especially in the results management system and ordered a fresh election within 150 days which expires on July 3. The Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal on May 8 upheld the nullification.

However, the fresh election faces several logistical challenges, including enabling laws and printing of ballot papers which is yet to be sanctioned.

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