The lies that some Members of Parliament peddled last week that they consulted their constituents to defeat the Electoral Reforms Bill, have been exposed following a visit by Malawi News to selected constituencies across the country.
Malawi News travelled to some constituencies in Karonga, Mzimba, Salima and Zomba to sample the views of the electorate on whether they were consulted by their MPs as most claimed.
We talked to people in Malani Mtonga’s Karonga South Constituency; we spent some time in Uladi Mussa’s Salima South; asked questions in Wallace Chawawa’s Zomba Chingale Constituency and Patrick Makina’s Zomba Ntonya Constituency.
We also talked to people in Mzimba North East Constituency, whose MP is independent Olipa Muyaba.
In the Northern Region, most MPs are facing pressure from their constituents for rejecting specifically the Constitution Amendment Bill and the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections bill.
Both bills had proposals to shift from the First-Past the Post system to 50+1 system of electing a President, MP and Councilors.
For Mzimba North East, constituency members want their MP to revoke her vote because she never consulted them on the two bills. The story is the same in Karonga South where MP Malani Mtonga is facing mounting pressure to justify his decision to side with the DPP to reject the bills.
In an interview with Malawi News last week, Mtonga lied that his constituency asked him to reject the bills. But when we visited his Constituency, the story was different.
PP’s district chairperson for Karonga Medson Simwaka said Mtonga and other PP MPs who were against the bills betrayed the party and do not have the welfare of Malawians at heart.
He wondered why such MPs never spared sometime to consult their constituents on the bills despite prior knowledge that such bills would at one point or the other be presented during the just ended sitting of Parliament.
“We are not happy, especially here in Karonga and Chirumba we are not happy with what transpired in Parliament on the side of PP MPs. All those that voted no have their own interests that they are championing and not the party’s,” Simwaka said.
His sentiments were echoed by Uliwa ward councilor Chengamowa Munthali who is also a member of the former ruling party.
Munthali said that they summoned Mtonga to explain why he voted and sided with the DPP but he never showed up, a conduct which he said smacks of arrogance.
“This only vindicated our fears, after we heard that he was among the MPs that met President Peter Mutharika at State House. People of Chirumba are not amused with him,” Munthali said.
But in an interview on Thursday, Mtonga changed tune, saying he only exercised his democratic right and that his party should applaud him for the stance.
“…after all, the world is not ending tomorrow, we need to consult and enact laws that will benefit Malawians. It’s unfortunate some people want to gain political mileage out of this. I am of the view that this bill might even go for a referendum should the worse come to the worst,” Mtonga said.
Similar pressure is mounting on independent MP for Mzimba North East Constituency Olipa Muyaba. Her people are demanding that she “withdraws” her vote from Parliament records.
Muyaba, who has been summoned to a meeting with community leaders tomorrow, has also been asked to make a public apology for her vote which they say is not reflective of their wishes.
But Muyaba said yesterday that she rejected the second reading of the bill because she did not have enough time to read through it and comprehend, thus arguing that her vote was in principle asking for more time to scrutinize it.
But chairperson for a special taskforce in her constituency Gerald Dube quashed the legislator’s argument and wondered why it was easier to say no than yes or let alone abstain.
“People of Mzimba North West are in full support of the electoral reforms bills, and we rallied behind PAC through and through in pushing for the changes. It is a pity to have then an MP who has no idea of what her constituents stand for,” Dube said.
“She owes us an explanation and we want her vote nullified, because should it remain as such it will bear the name of our constituency and that sends a very wrong message about us. We are advocates of progress and democracy,” he added.
Senior Group Village Headman Yohane Jere of Ekwendeni agreed with his subjects and said since the onset of the debate on Electoral Reforms, Muyaba has not engaged her constituency and that her vote represented individual opinion.
When asked for comment on her party’s role in weakening the opposition’s stance on the bills through absenteeism and the no votes, deputy leader of PP in the house Agnes Nyalonje said the voting pattern was due to individual choices and conviction but the party remains committed to championing the interest of Malawians.
“We are a party for the people, and we are not swayed towards anything less than that which is for the good of Malawians. We fully understand the importance of these bills in cementing democracy, so the individual votes should not in any way be mistaken to be the overall stance of the party,” said Nyalonje who was among the few PP legislators who voted in the affirmative towards the second reading of the bill.
Reacting to the time excuse by other MPs, Nyalonje said those who realize the significance of the bill like her, took it upon themselves to read through the bills and the report from the Special Law Commission to ensure that their decisions are from an informed point of view.
Interviews conducted in Zomba and Blantyre showed similar results. People are angry regardless of which political party they belong to.
“My MP for Blantyre Central is Themba Mkandawire and he took his party’s position against the Electoral Bills and my problem is that he never took time to ask us,” said Lameck Phiri, a Ndirande resident.
Mkandawire is a DPP lawmaker and, as expected, he voted in line with his party’s position in rejecting the bills.
A visit to Zomba Chingale constituency exposed a communication gap between the MP Wallace Chawawa of PP and his constituents.
Cliff Tsegula of Chibwana Village in the constituency, who is also a member of Chibwana Village Development Committee (VDC), argued that on the assumption of office of presidency, there are a lot of anomalies and irregularities that need time to be ironed out.
“Let me ask one question; we conduct an election today and the candidate who emerges victorious is sworn in immediately, in cases where there are anomalies and the case goes to court, are you telling me the anomalies can be sorted out in the interest of both sides? What I see here as a common Malawian, is a plot to rig the next elections,” he said.
Tsegula, however, was shocked to learn that the constituency’s representative in Parliament, Chawawa voted against some of the bills
“Who did he consult? I live not far from his home, I saw him some few days when Parliament was in session. I do not remember, not even a day, people from this constituency were called to have their voice on the 50 percent + 1 voting system,” lamented Tsegula.
His sentiments are not different from those other eight members of the constituency who said they were not consulted too.
Derrick Mbela of Zomba Mtonya Constituency also expressed surprise with the conduct of Makina.
Mbela, who is a member of Area Development Committee of Senior Chief Chikowi and Chairperson of VDC of Group Village Headman Mbembesha said the bills are very important and could help transform the country.
“If we sit down and scrutinise the electoral reforms bills, they are very important, with 50 percent + 1 we are assured that the siting president has been voted by majority of Malawians. What PAC was pushing for was right and very important. It is just unfortunate that our Member of Parliament presented what he knows, not what we wanted,” he said.
Mbela is one of the seven out of 10 people in the constituency who we interviewed who said they were not consulted on the position by their Member of Parliament who voted no.
Two out of ten said they are not aware whether some people were consulted or not and one opted not to comment.
However, Zomba Malosa Member of Parliament, Roy Kachale, was not present the day parliamentarians were voting for and against the six electoral reforms bills.
Bernard Tawakali, Catherine Chitenje, Frolence Tanganyika, Christopher Chitini, Peter Namithara, James Kantambe and three others of Traditional Authority Malemia said what the parliamentarian did was an infringement of their right.
The other three asked stakeholders and government to help in civic educating the people on the importance of the bills but declined to comment on whether they were consulted on the electoral reforms bills.
The anger is the same in Salima South constituency. Their MP, Uladi Mussa, did not consult them when he decided to vote and align himself to DPP.
Everet Edward of Mikunju Vilage, Traditional Authority Ndidi, said Mussa has never consulted the constituents on issues he has been presenting in Parliament.
“He has never come to our village to ask our views. In most cases, he is in Lilongwe and says things which we have not sent him to say in Parliament. He did not ask us anything on the issue of electoral reforms,” Edward said.
Her sentiments are shared by Blessings Alinafe Mwanjisi of Chipoka:
“I am surprised with what our MPs are saying in Parliament. Since he became MP in 1994, he has never invited people for discussions on how he was going to present issues in the House. He doesn’t seek our views on important decisions.”
Joe Aison Nyirenda of Saiti Village, Traditional Authority Ndindi, who has been living in Salima since 1997 said the issue of 50+1 is important, stressing the need for the MP to consult his constituents, before taking a position on the matter.
Mussa’s constituency governor Jacob Mtambo said they are just waiting to hear from him which political direction he will take.
“All we do here in Salima South is about Honourable Uladi Mussa. We know he was fired from his position as [People’s Party] acting president, as well as leader of the party in Parliament. At the moment, we have not been told what to do. We only hear that he is going to DPP [Democratic Progressive Party]. We are waiting for reasons, but we will follow him wherever he goes. Once he makes a decision, it will be constituency and district committees following him,” Mtambo said.
Efforts to speak to Mussa on Friday proved futile but in an exclusive interview when Parliament had just adjourned last week, Mussa, said there are a number of issues that prompted him to vote against the electoral reforms and one of them is the understanding that DPP, the Peoples Party (PP) and United Democratic Front (UDF), are one family and as such, they must work together.
“They have got common background. We are one family. All of us were under UDF from 1994 up to 1999, may be up to 2004. We have been under UDF. So, it is not strange to see some Members of Parliament working together with the government. We are all one family, DPP, Peoples Party and UDF, we are one family,” Mussa said.
Mussa’s position on the issue of electoral reforms has also been seen in his close ally, Cassim Liguluwe of Salima South East, who is also currently a PP member.
Osborne Katole of Katelera said Liguluwe has never engaged his constituents on crucial decisions.
“He did not ask us anything. I have never heard of such consultations. May be some other parts of the constituency. But not here,” Katole said.
Another constituent, Wilson Moffat of Malota Village Traditional Kambwili said the MP ignores a section of his constituency which is under T/A Kambwili.
“He just goes to areas under T/A Pemba, because that’s where he got most votes [in 2014]. May be he consulted people of that area, but not here,” Moffat said.
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