By Sellina Tembula
The law is the law; this is a trite axiom often employed by advocates of societies strictly sticking to what was agreed upon by Members of Parliament (MPs) who make the dominant rules.
Of course, there are always rooms for ‘softly bending the rules’ in line which various demands including needs of present generations.
Sometimes, a country’s economic progress may compel interpreters of various pieces of legislation to go for what may seem like unconventional predictions of what such pieces mean.
Recently, the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) announced that at the 2025 general elections, the country may have 35 more MPs on top of the 193 who represent the current number of constituencies in the country.
Mec has proposed an increase of the constituencies to 228 after considering several factors reflected in the laws that govern the existence and maintenance of constituencies in the country.
“This is the first comprehensive constituency boundary review since 1998 and, hence, the big changes that have been observed.
“Secondly, the number of constituencies determined is not based on current constituencies in each council but the projected number of eligible voters (people that will be 18 years and above) in 2025 and other factors such as population density, ease of communication, geographical features and administrative boundaries,” Mec spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said in a statement on Friday.
He was providing some clarification on challenges some stakeholders had in reading the allocation of the new number of constituencies.
The commission used an example of Nkhotakota whose council was allocated one additional constituency to the four determined by consideration of population of voters eligible to register to vote and land size.
“This decision was made on account of ensuring ease of communication as well as the topographical layout of parts of the council,” Mwafulirwa said.
In essence, Mec is not making reference to the current number of constituencies for each council but simply looking at the projected population of eligible voters by 2025 and land size of a particular district.
The commission considered factors as provided in the Constitution which include ease of communication , geographical features and administrative boundaries.
“[Mec] has determined the number of constituencies for each council to be applicable in the 2025 general elections. It has not reviewed or drawn the boundaries of the constituencies yet.
“This will be the next exercise to be done through the District Boundary Review Committees. Based on the determination of the Commission, the Boundary Review Committees will go on the ground to establish the actual boundaries in consultation with local leaders,” the electoral body says.
While the number of the constituencies, which may arise from the exercise, will be higher and an additional dent on the already constricted national purse, it is the law that is simply being followed.
Mec is simply doing what is required of it—and the fact that previous cohorts failed to undertake the crucial exercise cannot prevent the law from being executed at this moment.
The electoral body is expected to hold a meeting with MPs to present to them the final maps for the new constituencies. The meeting will provide an opportunity for the lawmakers to seek any clarification on the exercise.
“After that the commission will make a formal submission of its report to the National Assembly for adoption. It should be emphasised that the current boundaries of 193 constituencies will remain intact until Parliament shall be dissolved in 2025,” Mec says.
Perhaps, MPs have the opportunity of incorporating the views of Malawians before they adopt the report or reject it.
From an economic point of view, if the 35 more MPs finally get to the National Assembly, taxpayers will have to part ways with an additional K77 million (K2.2 million for each MP) just in monthly packages, excluding allowances.
It has to be stated that as required by law, the consultations that culminated in Mec’s proposal were conducted nationwide with chiefs, politicians and civil society organisations, among other stakeholders.
Some economists have been accusing Mec of being insensitive by “increasing the number of legislators”.
That the electoral body simply followed what is in the law does not seem to matter to them.
While it is necessary that the thin national purse is protected from ‘unnecessary’ expenditures, following the law should not be needlessly suspended because of economic implications. After all, democracy has never been cheap.
What is required is to revise laws so that they respond to particular economic needs.
Managing the extra seats for MPs which may be finally created will obviously mean an extra burden on taxpayers, but that is what is in the law.
The only sensible thing is to change provisions that govern the creation of constituencies instead of attacking those determined to follow the law.
In 1994, there were 177 MPs in Malawi. A re-demarcation exercise in 1999 increased the number of 193.