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Turmoil over elections bill

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Parliament Tuesday nearly degenerated into chaos when members from both sides failed to amicably conclude debate on a question by Lilongwe North East lawmaker, Maxwell Thyolera, who wanted Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu, to say when a bill on electoral reforms would be tabled in Parliament.

The bill in question is supposed to emanate from a report by the Special Law Commission which was instituted to provide direction on the electoral reforms proposed by election stakeholders.

Among others, the reforms seek to do away with the First- Past-The-Post system where a president is elected with a simple majority and replace it with the 50+1 system where a contestant needs to amass more than 50 percent of the valid votes to be accorded the hot seat.

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Tembenu’s response to Thyolera, where he indicated that the bill will not be brought to the august House during the current meeting, did not go down well with several opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) who accused government of deliberately stifling electoral reforms.

But Tembenu argued that there was nothing he could do because the report had only been presented to him on April 20 due to the tight schedule of the Special Law Commission.

“The report has just been presented to my ministry and it has to go to cabinet. We have to understand that all laws are for Malawians and I have no power to frustrate any of them. The bill will be presented during the November meeting,” Tembenu said.

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Mzimba West parliamentarian, Mkandawire, warned that there will be trouble in the country if the bill is not brought to Parliament soon.

He, however, did not qualify the kind of trouble he was referring to even though he intimated that government’s failure to fully support the electoral reforms is because the Southern Region does not want a president to come from the Central or the Northern Regions.

“The Secretary General of [governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)] talked about the Northern Region forgetting about producing a president for this country. That was a careless statement. In Rwanda, one million people died because of such careless statements,” Mkandawire said.

He was referring to a statement which Greselder Jeffrey allegedly made recently on the same matter. The DPP SG has not publicly distanced herself from the remarks.

MP for Dowa East, Richard Chimwendo Banda, also accused Tembenu of misinforming the House when the minister said it was the Steering Committee of the Special Law Commission which had delayed part of the process leading to the tabling of the bill.

He said every time a private members bill comes to Parliament, Tembenu asks for patience so that consultations can be made first.

“He [Tembenu] told this House that the bill would come in the current meeting, but now he is saying it is most likely coming in the next meeting,” Chimwendo Banda said.

But in an interview after Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Clement Chiwaya, had ‘forcefully’ disposed of the matter, Tembenu accused the opposition side of providing political arguments on the matter which cannot entertain any short cut.

On Mkandawire’s claims that the Southern Region does not want a president from the Northern or Central Regions, Chiwaya said if parties whose leaders are from the Southern Region appeal more to Malawians, then they can have more presidents just like those in other regions would.

Government Chief Whip, Henry Mussa, also warned that making regionalism statements without providing facts is detrimental to the peace of Malawi.

“The Honourable Member for Mzimba West has made a very sensitive allegation. He has referred to the Rwandan [genocide]. That is a very serious matter which we must be careful with,” Mussa said.

In his response to President Peter Mutharika’s State of the Nation Address (Sona), Leader of Opposition, Lazarus Chakwera, faulted the President for ignoring the electoral reforms issue. He argued that the omission shows that government is not willing to have the reforms implemented.

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