The government side in Parliament yesterday used its numerical advantage to shoot down two election bills, effectively stopping them from being debated at a stage where amendments or their absence could have led to the bills’ passing.
The Assumption of Office of the President (Transitional Arrangements) Bill and Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill were presented by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu, having been approved by Cabinet.
However, the government side’s numerical advantage in the House,which was made stronger with abstinence and absentee votes from the People’s Party (PP), resulted in the easy defeating of the bills.
The abstinence and the absenteeism confirmed rumours that the PP indeed made some deals when some of its MPs met President Peter Mutharika a couple of weeks ago.
This also meant the opposition—which had to largely rely on Malawi Congress Party (MCP)—could not have their say on issues which sought numbers to be decided.
So far, the Democratic Progressive Party has managed to throw out of Parliament two crucial bills right back to the Ministry of Justice. On its part, the opposition only managed to stop the Electoral Commission Bill after they noticed some changes that would compromise the independence of the Malawi Electoral Commission.
The Assumption of Office of President (Transitional Arrangements) Bill, which seeksto regulate the transition from one administration to another following a general election, was the first to be tabled
The first argument was on the composition of the transition team, which, according to the bill, shall consist of the Chief Secretary to the Government, Secretary to the Treasury, Solicitor General, Commander of the Defence Force, Inspector General of Police, Director General of the National Intelligence Service, Director General of State Residences and not more than three persons appointed by the incumbent president and the president-elect each.
Some opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), including MCP’s Maxwell Thyolera and PP’s James Munthali, objected the composition of the transition team and proposed that the president-elect should appoint more members to the team.
“For instance, the Kenyan model does not include appointees of the outgoing president into the transition team. That should have been the case with us regarding this bill,” Thyolera said.
However, Tembenu argued that the public officers that are supposed to be in the transition team are those already in the government and that the government is always in place without belonging to any political party.
On the other hand, DPP MP for Lilongwe City Centre David Bisnowaty and PP’s Uladi Mussa of Salima North want a president to be sworn in immediately after being declared winner.
The bill was shot down when Tembenu wanted to read the bill for the second time so that it could go into the committee stage.
This was before even any substantive amendment had been proposed.
The blocking of the bill could imply the government had deliberately brought it to Parliament under the guise that it was committed to having it tabled, knowing that its lawmakers would use their numerical strength to shoot it down.
“My understanding is that when a minister brings a bill, his backbenchers will thoroughly support it. But the way things have happened today is very interesting; in fact, suspicious,” PP MP for Mzimba West, Harry Mkandawire, said.
His concern was echoed by other opposition MPs, including Lilongwe Mpenu Nkhoma’s Collins Kajawa, Dowa East’s Richard Chimwendo Banda and Karonga Central’s Frank Mwenifumbo.
Salima North West’s Jessie Kabwila argued that the government had just decided to bring the bills to Parliament in a bid to avoid the demonstrations that were being organised by the Public Affairs Committee knowing that it would find a way of frustrating them.
Later in the day, Tembenu brought to Parliament the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Amendments Bill, which was also shot down by MPs from his own side.
The bill, which, among other things, proposes the contentious 50 percent +1 vote for councillors, MPs and the president, was also blocked at the second reading.
The blocking of the two bills means they have to be sent back to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs for redrafting. The development brings the total number of rejected Electoral Reforms [Amendment] Bills to three, the Referendum Bill being the only one that has been passed.
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