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Peter Mutharika ‘drags feet’ on electoral reforms bills

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President Peter Mutharika has not yet decided on whether to assent to electoral reforms bills, Presidential Press Secretary, Mgeme Kalilani, has said.

“There is no decision on it yet as we speak this evening. However, there will be a decision soon,” Kalilani said last evening, insisting that Mutharika has a few more days before he can make a decision on the bills.

However, Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament, through its chairperson, Kezzie Msukwa, Monday insisted that the 21-day window for Mutharika to act on the matter has elapsed.

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Parliament passed the bills in line with the Constitutional Court judgement which nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election.

“If you look at the court documents, the President is part of Parliament in preparations of the bills. The 21 days given by the court and adopted by Parliament, include working days, weekends and public holidays. So to us, the President is in contempt because the days are over,” Msukwa said.

He said his committee will wait for the direction from the Speaker of the National Assembly to see how best to tackle the issue considering that it has a direct impact on preparations for the forthcoming presidential election scheduled for May 19.

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Parliament Public Relations Officer, Leonard Mengezi, confirmed that Parliament was yet to receive communication from the Office of the President regarding the bills.

Mengezi said Parliament believes that Mutharika has some days left to assent to the bills.

However, the Legal Affairs Committee insists the window is over. A panel of five High Court judges sitting as a Constitutional Court ordered some electoral reforms to improve the handling of the elections in the country.

Among others, Parliament passed a bill to hold fresh presidential election on May 19. The electoral reform bills also include a provision of 50 percent-plus-one majority votes for a candidate to be declared a winner.

Malawi Electoral Support Network Chairperson, Steve Duwa, said failure to hasten the electoral reforms bills as well as appointing new Malawi Electoral Commission commissioners will likely present a crisis in preparation for the forthcoming election.

“I am not currently in touch with the processes, but my simple understanding is that we still don’t have time to waste to implement what the court ordered. It is clear that the opposition is not willing to go into the forthcoming election with the same commissioners and the old laws. This means that we need to have the bills in place as soon as possible,” Duwa said.

He said having the bills and the new commissioners in place are critical because it will ensure that the fresh presidential election is held within the accepted standards which the court highlighted.

“But as it is now, it is doubtful if it will be practical to hold the fresh election within the 150 days given by the court,” Duwa said.

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