The government appears to finally bow down to pressure to table the six Electoral Reforms Amendment Bills when yesterday it convinced Malawi Congress Party(MCP) Members of Parliament (MPs) to return to Parliament with a promise to initially table two out of the six bills.
The government may ask for an extension of the current meeting of Parliament to table the remaining four bills.
MCP MPs boycotted Parliament of Monday in protest against government’s reluctance to table the contentious bills.
The two bills expected to be tabled tomorrow are the Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill which seeks, among other proposals, to establish a Selection Panel to be responsible for inviting and assessing application for the office of commissioners of Malawi Electoral Commission and making recommendations to the President.
The proposed composition of the Selection Panel is law commissioner, the chairperson the Human Rights Commission, a judge of the High Court nominated by the Judicial Service Commission and two representatives of the civil society organsations nominated by the NGO Board.
The amendment strips the President of powers to appoint Mec commissioners only in consultation with political parties.
The other bill to be tabled tomorrow is the Referendum Bill which seeks to provide the conduct and holding of a referendum in Malawi and other matters connected to it.
The interesting highlights in the bill are the proposed 500,000 signatures of registered voters to petition the President to call for the referendum and also provisions to only hold a referendum under the following matters: amendment of the Constitution, national legislation, national policy; citizen welfare; and any other matter as may be determined by the President to be in the public interest.
MCP President and Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Lazarus Chakwera justified his return to the Chamber, saying government has assured them that the bills will be brought to the House in the current meeting.
“I attended the Business Committee and the reason I went back to the Chamber was because the announcement was made on the bills. And usually when that is done, both government side as well as the opposition do cooperate that that has been decided on.
“And because we are still in the process, with what you heard that they are consulting and they will come back to us, the Speaker will give a comprehensive response of what the Business Committee decides following the consultation,” Chakwera said.
Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Esther Mcheka-Chilenje, welcomed Chakwera, for returning to the Chamber alongside his legislators.
“We missed your contributions,” said Chilenje amid handclapping from the government side.
The development prompted Leader of the House, Kondwani Nankhumwa, to move a motion to waive Standing Orders to pave the way for the tabling of Legal Education and Legal Practitioners’ Bill.
Chakwera said the opposition can only trust that government will live to its word on the matter.
“We trust that by tomorrow [today], we will have that [the bills tabled],” he said.
Chakwera emphasised that the boycott was aimed at forcing government to demonstrate its commitment to the tabling of the bills in question.
“We are tired of the intransigency; we are tired of the dilly dallying; we are tired of the seeming shifting of the posts,” he said.
Chilenje said government maintained that only two bills are ready and would be circulated tomorrow.
The Deputy Speaker further disclosed that government informed the Business Committee that there is a possibility of a third bill also to be circulated on Thursday, the 7th of December, 2017. And this bill is Assumption of Office of the President (Transitional Amendments Bill) seeking to establish a transition team for the assumption of the office of the president-elect.
It shall consist of the chief Secretary to the president and Cabinet who shall be the chairperson; the secretary to the Treasury; the Solicitor General and secretary for Justice; the Commander of the Malawi Defence Force; the Inspector General of Police; the Director General of State Residences; not more than three persons appointed by the incumbent president; and not more than three persons appointed by the president-elect.
The deputy speaker said that the committee was informed that government is still working on the remaining bills on Electoral Reforms.
“In this regard, the Business Committee discussed a possibility of extending the meeting of Parliament beyond the 15th of December, 2017, to allow government to finalise working on the remaining bills,” said Chilenje.
Among the remaining bills is the one that seeks to change the electoral system from first-past-the-post to 50 percent+1 voting system.
But Nankhumwa sounded hesitant on the possibility of extension to accommodate the consultations and tabling of the bills during the current meeting.
“For MPs to meet for a week, we spend at least K200 million. So, we will be looking into that if that is feasible to extend and depending on the availability of resources in the government coffers,” said Nankhumwa.