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Peter Mutharika has five days to sign electoral bills and fire Mec commissioners

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President Peter Mutharika has five days to assent to the Electoral Reforms Bills as well as act upon the recommendation by Public Appointments Committee (Pac) of Parliament to fire Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) commissioners.

Mutharika has since had the bills and the report from Pac for 16 days from the time they were submitted to his office.

However, it is unclear as to when Mutharika will act on the bills as Presidential Secretary Mgeme Kalilani Wednesday said the nation will be informed at the right time.

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“The President is within the time limits and legal framework for such tasks. At the appropriate time, the nation will be informed,” he said.

Parliament Spokesperson Leonard Mengezi could not pick up his mobile phone.

But a source from Parliament who opted for anonymity said the bills were sent to Mutharika on February 27 2020.

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About two weeks ago, Parliament passed electoral bills which paved the way for holding of fresh presidential election where the winner is expected to amass 50-percent-plus-one votes.

In mid-February, Pac found all Mec commissioners incompetent to continue holding office and to oversee another election in the country.

Recently, Chancellor College law professor, Edge Kanyongolo, said under Section 73 (4) of the Constitution, Mutharika has no choice but to assent to the bills.

“At the end of the day, he is bound to assent [to the bills]. Any failure to assent [to the bills] as required under Section 73 [of the Constitution] would be a serious violation of the Constitution,” he said.

But in an event that Mutharika does not assent to the bills, Kanyongolo said Parliament could obtain a court order, declaring that the President had acted unconstitutionally or directing him to act according to the Constitution or prescribing the legal sanctions to be imposed on him as the court would, in its discretion, consider appropriate.

Section 73 of the Constitution states that where a bill is presented to the president for assent, he or she shall either assent or withhold assent and shall do so within 21 days from the date the bill is presented to him or her.

Sub-section 3 and 4 say if the bill is debated again and passed by a majority of the National Assembly legislators at any time between the dates of the expiry of the 21 days, the bill shall again be presented for assent by the president.

Dean of Law at Chancellor College, Sunduzwayo Madise, also urged Mutharika to quickly assent to the bills to ensure that what the court ordered is implemented.

“If he sends it back to Parliament, the President will send a very bad and strange message about our democracy. We are in a period which needs good will from everybody as we go towards the [presidential] election,” he said.

“The President must rise above being the president of his party [Democratic Progressive Party] or somebody else who was affected by the court ruling. He must assent to the bills to ensure that Malawi moves forward with peace and stability.”

UTM president Saulos Chilima and Malawi Congress Party leader Lazarus Chakwera went to the court challenging May 21 2019 presidential election saying it was marred by irregularities.

According to Mec, Mutharika got 1,940, 709 votes against Chakwera’s 1,781, 740 votes and Chilima’s 1,018, 369 votes.

The Constitutional Court on February 3 nullified May 21 2019 presidential election and ordered fresh election 150 days from the day of the verdict.

Meanwhile, Parliament decided that the fresh election should be held on May 19 2020 after passing the Presidential, Parliamentary Elections Act Amendment bills.

Among others, the bills, which are yet to be assented to by Mutharika, provide for a runoff within 30 days in case that no candidate gets 50-percent-plus-one of votes in the election.

This follows one of the consequential orders directed at the National Assembly which was for Parliament to enact enabling legislation to amend the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act in order to put into effect the interpretation of Section 80(2) of the Constitution which says the president shall be elected by a majority of electorate through direct universal and equal suffrage.

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