Members of Parliament yesterday rejected the Electoral Commission [Amendment] Bill and referred it to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament for cleaning but went ahead to pass the Referendum Bill without any amendment.
The Referendum Bill was passed amid reservations from the opposition, which wanted some amendments to be made to the bill but their proposal did not go through as they lacked numerical strength in the chamber.
If passed into law, the Referendum Bill would, among other things, give the electorate the powers of petitioning presidents to call for a referendum, as long as 500,000 registered voters sign the petition— effectively giving the masses a say.
While the amendment of the Electoral Commission was billed to entrench the independence of the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec), alterations the government made to the bill gave the Executive more powers, which is different from the Special Law Commission’s proposal and recommendations
These new changes compelled the opposition to object to some provisions in the bill, opting to refer it to the Legal Affairs Committee for “cleaning and refining”.
Responding to the reading of the bill by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu, Malawi Congress Party MP for Lilongwe North East, Maxwell Thyolera, who is also Legal Affairs Committee Chairperson, faulted the government for “raping” the report by the Law Commission.
“The bill is aimed at enhancing operational efficiency of Mec. Instead, the DPP government is trying to get all the powers at the commission,” Thyolera said.
Section 4 (1) states that, subject to section 75 (1) of the Constitution, the President shall, on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission, appoint a chairman of the Commission on such terms and conditions as the Chief Secretary to the Government shall determine Sub-section 2 of the same section states: “…the President shall appoint suitably qualified persons to be members of the Commission, on such terms and conditions as the Chief Secretary to the Government shall determine.”
According to Thyolera, by putting the Chief Secretary to the Government as the determiner of the conditions, the independence of Mec is being compromised.
Speaking on behalf of the People’s Party, MP for Mzimba North, Agnes Nyalonje, also argued that the substance of the bill takes away the independence of the Electoral Commission.
“For credible and legitimate elections, there should be an independent body, but this is not what this bill is providing [for],” Nyalonje said.
But Tembenu defended the bill, arguing that most of the provisions that some MPs are not comfortable with are merely extensions of the Special Law Commission’s proposals and that government is simply trying to formalise what has all along been happening.
He argued that, for instance, Mec is seeking advice from the Chief Secretary to the Government when it comes to coming up with conditions for the appointment of commissioners.
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