Parliament Tuesday amended two electoral Acts. They include a Constitution Amendment Bill as well as Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill that will strengthen operations of the electoral body as well as improve efficiency and credibility of elections in the country.
In terms of the Constitution Amendment Bill, lawmakers agreed that the Electoral Commission should now be called the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec).
The august House also agreed that a presidential candidate should be allowed to choose another running mate in case of death, incapacitation or disqualification.
On the other hand, the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill amendments have provided a detailed process on how a second poll should be conducted in a presidential election where no candidate manages to achieve a majority of more than 50 percent in the first poll.
Sections 35 of the amended Act indicates that, in view of the 50-plus-one law, a second poll shall be conducted in accordance with the Constitution where the only candidates shall be presidential candidates that obtained the highest and second highest number of valid votes cast in the first poll or an equal number of valid votes cast in the first poll, being the highest votes among the candidates that stood in the election.
The legal framework also guides that the second poll should be conducted within 60 days after the first poll.
The amendment further indicates that polling day should be declared a public holiday, with polling time to start from 6am to 4pm to allow counting of votes to be done during the day.
Weighing in on the issue, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Titus Mvalo said any citizen who has been ordinarily resident in the country for seven years, and has attained the age of 18 years or provides proof that on, or before, the polling day he or she shall have attained the age of 18 years, should be eligible to vote.
Mvalo also said a candidate of an election shall pay a non-refundable nomination fee and that presidential polling results shall be gazetted within eight days, parliamentary results within 14 days and Local Government Election results within 21 days.
It further reviews the custodian of election materials to be the Clerk of Parliament since the Chief Elections Officer is now an employee of Mec.
Chairperson for the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament Peter Dimba also presented a report that the electoral body should create constituency tally centres for purposes of tallying of results in both general and by elections.
Dimba also proposed that there should be a provision providing for offences for situations where party and candidate representatives are barred from observing and monitoring elections at polling stations.
In line with provisions of the passed bills, the Parliament of Malawi will be custodian of polling materials after announcement o results for a period of not more than four months unless in case of a dispute.
Members of Parliament for Machinga Likwenu Bright Msaka, Thyolo Central Ben Phiri and Mangochi South Lilian Patel pushed for the legal recognition of constituency tally centres as guided by the Constitutional Court in the most recent election case.
The National Assembly also agreed, through the Constitution Amendment Bill, that the electoral body should be legally recognised as Malawi Electoral Commission and that boundary reviews should be done every 10 years from five years.
Spokesperson for Democratic Progressive Party on the bill, Yusuf Nthenda, said the opposition bench was satisfied with the amendments.
“We are happy with amendments because I was also part of the committee where the proposed amendments were scrutinised and we gave the issue the attention that was needed,” he said.
Mvalo, on the other hand, said amending the law would ensure efficiency and credibility of the elections.
Centre for Multiparty Democracy Executive Director Kizito Tenthani commended the House for giving the bills the much needed attention and passing them.
“The next step, as we are waiting for the presidential assent, is to start massive civic education so that all stakeholders are aware of what the electoral laws are requiring of them. Time to start that process is now,” Tenthani said.
The amendment of the electoral bills comes after the High Court sitting as a Constitutional Court observed gaps in the legal framework on how elections are managed in the country.