Political rights of Malawians
In principle and constitutional law, Malawi is a democratic country though, in practice, democracy here is a road under construction.
Hence the bills that Public Affairs Committee and other advocates of democracy insist should be presented to the current parliamentary session are imperative.
News that President Peter Mutharika is currently canvassing Members of Parliament belonging to People’s Party to work in alliance with Democratic People’s Party has drawn anxiety in the minds of those who want the proposed constitutional amendment bills not only to be presented in Parliament but actually to be enacted to enabling laws.
In 2007 and 2008, constitutional conventions were held in Lilongwe under the chairmanship of Justice Elton Singini. I was one of the thousands who were invited to participate. Participants included some of the most brilliant intellectuals, professionals and those from humble backgrounds with regard to education and vocations. The idea of inviting members from across sections of the nation was to make the gathering truly representative.
Resolutions were taken which included the education of presidential candidates, the minimum and maximum age of a president. Perhaps of overwhelmingly importance was the necessity to hold presidential reruns when none of the candidates scores at least 50+1 of the votes cast. None of the political parties which attended the convention spoke against the resolution. It was hoped that before the 2009 general elections were held, Parliament would meet and pass the law so that the 50+1 proviso would start operating at once. But spokespersons of the ruling party gave the impression that there was no time to convene Parliament for the purpose.
During the 2009 to 2014 term, I personally wrote in The Nation several times reminding Malawians about the 50+1 constitutional resolution made in 2007-2008 indaba. Much to my surprise, no one wrote to support me none wrote to contradict me. So, the 2014 elections were once more held without the 50+1 requirement though none of the candidates got even 40 percent of the votes.
I do not know how historians will write about Robert Mugabe. Hopefully, they will give him credit for respecting some basic formulas of democracy. One of these is to reserve certain political decisions for the population as a whole. Neither a Cabinet nor Parliament can adequately represent the views of the nation on certain matters. For example, whether death penalty should be abolished or restored or whether a country should federate with another. Only a referendum can do so.
At one time, Mugabe got incorporated into the Constitution of Zimbabwe extra powers of the president. The opposition demanded a referendum. Mugabe consented and a referendum was held. It went against Mugabe and he accepted the people’s wish just as he has accepted the people’s wish that he should resign the presidency though not joyfully of course.
During the election before the last one, Morgan Tsvangirai’s party did better than Mugabe’s but neither of the presidential candidates scored more than 50 percent of the votes. Tsvangirai demanded a rerun. Mugabe accepted but Tsvangirai later withdrew because of the violence unleashed by the Zanu PF youths. Mugabe went to contest without an opponent as it has happened recently in Kenya.
Contrast this with what has happened in Malawi. The cabinet of the ruling party has for nearly 10 years virtually nullified the resolution of the 2007-2008 indaba on the 50+1 electoral system, yet this is one of the resolutions the Cabinet and Parliament should accept without reservations since it was made by a more representative gathering of chiefs and commoners. The only body that can be more representative than this is a referendum of the whole nation.
The Cabinet by arrogating to itself absolute authority on the re-run issue is behaving unconstitutionally or not according to conventions. It makes meaningless the slogan “mphamvu kwa anthu [power to the people]”.
Former Norwegian ambassador Eidhammer in his book Malawi Apart has reminded Malawians of what happened when former president Bakili Muluzi was campaigning for third term. Money amounting to K100,000 was openly being dished to members of the opposition to persuade them to vote for the resolution. It was defeated by a narrow margin, which suggests the bribes had influence on the results.
By the time this article is published, I do not know what PP members have bound themselves to do. But Malawians have absolute right to decide how their president should be elected. If the bills are not enacted into law, there should be a referendum on the matter, nothing else.
Democracy means equality of opportunity for all citizens regardless of the tribe, role, religion or region to which they belong. Since election tends to be guided by tribal alliance, those who belong to small tribes are perpetually disadvantaged.
Uganda has been retrieved from chaos by Yoweri Museveni, a member of a small tribe called Hima. If the 50+1 rule is adopted, even a member of a small tribe such as Sena in the South or Sukwa in the North might be elected presidents and might turn out to be Margaret Thatcher, Charles de Quelle or Lee Kuan Yew of Malawi, a transformer of the economy. People of Malawi are now tired of average presidents.
Malawians now want someone who can rid their country of stigma it now bears as the poorest or second poorest in the world.
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