Malawi Law Commission adopts 50+1 electoral system — Electing a president by majority

Contestants for the 2019 general polls must brace themselves for challenging times ahead following Malawi’s Law Commission decision to adopt a fifty plus one vote law that will see the country receding from the winner-takes-it-all scenario of electing the president.

Kamanga (left) Supreme Court Jusdge chairing the Special Law Commission on electoral reforms with Minister of Justice Tembenu

Malawi, had been using the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) or winner-takes-all system to elect presidents, members of Parliament (MPs) and ward councillors.

A year-long investigation by the Special  Law Commission has resulted into the adoption of the vote law, described by Chancellor College’s media and communications expert, Jimmy Kainja, as “the biggest overhaul of the country’s electoral system.”

Nyasa Times understands that at a recent two-day multi-stakeholder conference to discuss planned electoral reforms in the country, the commission resolved to abolish the current “first-past-the-post” (FPTP) of selecting the president and adopt the majority of more than 50 percent.

The new system will mean that the winning president will have to amass at least 50+ percent threshold of the national vote.

Chairperson of the Special Law Commission Justice Anthony Kananga presented their findings to the media on Wednesday in Lilongwe and outlines six bills to Parliament for enactment which include Constitution (amendment), Electoral Commission (amendment), Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections (LGE), Assumptions of the Office of President (Transitional Arrangement) and Referendum.

He said Parliament will have to amend Section 80 (2) of the Constitution and Section 96 (5) of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections (PPE) Act to provide change of the electoral system from the current simple majority to the 50 plus one percent.

Kamanga said where no such majority is obtained by any presidential candidate in the first poll, a run-off “should be held in which two presidential candidates who obtained the highest and second highest number of valid votes cast should be the only candidates.”

Catholic University of Malawi (Cunima) political scientist, Nandini Patel, said with the new system, a runoff would be made where no presidential candidate secures the threshold or a double ballot where the top two candidates contest in the second round and one who secures more votes would be declared winner.

“On the face of it, the proposal is straightforward and makes logical sense. Yet, this is complex than it appears and if adopted it would revolutionize the way local politics is done,” said Patel.

Malawi has used the FPTP system since 1994, and the situation has been that all presidents have come from the highly populated regions since they are have always been assured of electoral victory as far as the FPTP system is concerned.

“The proposed new system will help reduce the toxic politics of regionalism. It will also enhance national stability, which is the bedrock of any successful nation,” said Kainja.

But President Peter Mutharika’s special advisor, Hetherwick Ntaba, has described the new law as “unrealistic and wasteful.”

Ntaba said there is no way there could legitimacy attainment people are talking about.

“Let us talk about the costs. In reality, we are already struggling to conduct by-elections [in areas where MPs and local government councillors have died,” said Ntaba.

Out of the five general elections since the transition to multiparty democracy in 1993, three candidates have made it to State House with less than 50 percent of the popular vote.

In the first post-independence multiparty elections in 1994, Bakili Muluzi won the presidency with 47 percent although later, in his second term, won with 52 percent in 1999.

In 2004, the late Bingu wa Mutharika made it with 36 percent, but his approval rating surged to 66 percent five years later in 2009. His younger brother, Peter, in 2014 secured the presidency with about 36 percent of the votes cast.

Barely two months after Mutharika’s election in 2014, several quarters especially northerners – who come from the least populated region in the country – started lodging serious calls for a federal system of government to do away with the present unitary system.

Meanwhile, the legislation on transition provides smooth handover of  power an inauguration of the President-elect where a President would be swron-in  after 30 days from the date of the announcement of results.

It would regulate transition from one administration to another following the general elections where the Assumption of Office of President Bill would provide for the establishment of a transition team and functions of the team.

The Special Law Commission also recommend that minimum qualifications for presidential candidate and running mate should be a first degree or its equivalent from a recognised or accredited institution . Currently the law does not provide for minimum qualifications.

Candidates for Member of Parliament and Councillor position should be holders of Malawi School Certificate of Education and be able to speak and read English well enough to take part in proceedings in parliamentary and council meetings respectively.

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21 thoughts on “Malawi Law Commission adopts 50+1 electoral system — Electing a president by majority”

  1. biggy says:

    DPP 2019 boma with 50+1 or not!

  2. True patriot says:

    This sounds like the solution to our current political problems. I however, have strong reservations that this is necessarily the most ideal system in our case.

    The 50+1 percent works well where there are no tribal demarcations and where literacy levels are very high, such as in the US or UK. We know that in Malawi we don’t vote on policies but along tribal lines. It is no secret that the South would always vote for either DPP or UDF (assuming it seriously wanted to participate in presidential elections). The Central region will always align itself to MCP. The Northerners will always be sympathetic to AFORD (never mind whether it is still a legitimate political party).

    Let us look at these three political parties (no disrespect to the other 40+ registered political parties in the country).

    Now suppose that DPP, MCP and AFORD got 36%, 28% and 27%, respectively (for argument’s sake). This means that AFORD will be dropped off despite that it got only 1% less than MCP during the first polling.

    Going by the earlier assumption of tribal line voting, the Northerners (for simplicity’s sake, let’s say Tumbukas) failed by a meagre 1% to have one of their own competing in the run-off! Naturally, all AFORD supporters will be devastated for being ‘so near but so far away’. You therefore, don’t expect them to have any enthusiasm to participate during the run-off.

    We will again end up with the same problem, which we are currently trying to avoid (of having a president elected to this high office by mainly his/her kinsmen)! We will be back to square one. The only difference being that we will have taken a long-winded route to get there!

    In order to get around the foregoing problems, I suggest that we make modifications to the proposals by the Law Commission.

    One way would be putting a minimum percentage of regional votes that each candidate should get during a run-off. This requirement will make the contestants during the run-off campaign vigorously (trying to convince those voters who felt let down) in the first polling.

    This requirement will obviously reduce the advantage that one candidate may have enjoyed by the mere fact that his tribe or its associates are populous.

  3. john says:

    Good news for our democracy. For the first time we shall have a president mandated by the majority. Ndithu wina adzalira chakwawo.

  4. Ntaba you don’t fund elections so shut up on the costs

  5. Jonesgwembe says:

    It is more likely that evrery election there will be a rerun

  6. Semani says:

    Don’t copy things from others this system will not help Malawians its only those who work in electro commission they will get good moneys because if government looses first they will win on rerun they will do what ever it can take them there don’t forget we are the poorest people on earth so who doesn’t want money . For example if it had been kuti Ku Gambia kunali rerun yaya Jammy lero ali President.Solution yathu kuno is to have ma election Ku opposition kuti tipedze chipani chimodzi chodzayima pa general election ndi boma nothing else then you will see 50+1 koma inu mpaka zipani 50 for what

  7. sadala says:

    We needed this law long ago. Can not wait to have it passed the soonest. Malawi will mature democratically. BRAVO!!

  8. Prophecy says:

    We know what these means right? For those of you who don’t in the age of prophets I give you a prophecy. Mark my words.

    MCP is winning the next election according to my calculations (Prophecy).

    But here is the thing I’ll explain how I came to that conclusion very easy

    Independence government MCP 1965-1993

    Then UDF in tripary era 1994-2004 + 2004 – 2005 Bingu under UDF

    DPP Bingu from 2005 -2012 the booming period till shit ht the oil tank

    Then PP Joyce Banda from 2012 -2014

    Now this two last periods are critical we had a flag change which meant Malawi has woken up through the sun going in the middle best of times agriculture business so on and on (ETC) Then when Joyce Banda came in she changed the flag again but what did this symbolize not the flag kamuzu had put up of a sunrise soon to come no this was the sunset Malawi going backwards now in the dark days. Now things must reverse

    2014 till present DPP in government now in a coalition with UDF

    But this time UDF but is getting its time in government is the missing formula to bring us back to

    MCP 2019 – till whenever.

    Idk I need a maths teacher to mark this for me.

  9. The Partriot says:

    Sweet news indeed! We are tired of Presidents of one tribe, by one tribe and for one tribe! Eince no tribe in Malawi can amass 50% of the vote , common sense will dictate that the Presidential candidayes will have to form alliances with other tribes to rule. Expensive? Dr Ntaba if you think democracy is expensive try anarchy!!

  10. Tiyeni nazoni tiwone ngati wina sadzalira mayiwawaye. 50+1 will just fuel regionalism and federation calls since in the first 5 to 10 elections the Centre and North will always gang up against the South as they claim the South is more developed and has produced more presidents and I can forsee justified violent reaction from the Southerners. To me the best was the parliamentary proportional represantation as done in South Africa since MPs from one party are evenly spread across the country and those MPs will have the backing of their subjects in choosing the presidents.

  11. vuto says:

    With or without 50+1 there is one clear winner….The party with grassroot structures in all corners of the country and is able to feature a councillor or MP in all constituencies and wards that are available in Malawi and you not that party, strategy is the game enawa alibe strategies kutokota pa wireless basi

  12. Probably the only positive step taken so far to address the problem of being ruled by a president elected by minority. The only plea is for members of parliament to leave personal and political party divide/interest and support national interests. Surely Malawi will have a president elected by the majority.

  13. Yahya Jammeh says:

    The qualification for the Parliamentary seats is theoretical because I know a good number of the present crop of MPs are JC holders. The problem is that MEC does not do the vetting with MANEB to confirm the MPs qualifications or with the examining bodies like Cambridge University and University of London.if some of them claim to have GCE (O) level. Once this is done, some of these MPs will be caught. MEC must change its ways of doing business. These days people are so sophisticated with computers – it is quite possible to create a certificate similar to MSCE awarded by MANEB. After all, MANEB has records of every candidate who sat for the exam. The kind of English some MPs speak in Parliament leaves a lot to be desired – if they have genuine certificates then our standards of English have gone to the doldrums. Parliament must also be trained how to pronounce words in English- Chancellor College or Dr. Lipenga can do it. Sadly ,commonly mispronounced words are “recognise” and “favourite.” I will rule Gambia for a billion years.

  14. Wakajera says:

    This is the best that will happen to Malawi. Even in an exam, a pass of 50 and above is rated a strong pass. We were embracing very low percentage as enough representation of the whole population of the republic’s registered volters. Our neighbpurs are already using this system. Why not us?
    I would suggest two terms limit should also be extended to MPs who are currently enjoying unlimited terms. If the president has the limit why not MPs? Let us even this up. Some MPs are past their productive period and they could only be relieved by this regualtion.

  15. Mika Kumbire says:

    People should approach this with a sober mind. People should know that things don’t change much during the run-off because the region with the highest population still wins the election. Remember 50%+1 does not apply during the second round because the First-Past-The -Post still applies.

    We should also note that in some countries there is no need for a run-off where the gap between the leading candidate and the runner up is 25% or more. In a such a situation going for a runoff is indeed a waste of resources as well as time as resource.

    The problem with Malawi is that we don’t vote for policies or based on campaign messages. We vote for tribe, religion and region. Remember in 2014 the North voted for the PP first, then DPP and 3rd MCP

    In 2019 if the top 4 candidates are going to be DPP 36% (S), MCP (C) 28%, PP (N) 22% and UDF (E) 12%; There is definitely going to be a runoff between DPP & MCP.

    Since we vote on Tribal, Religious and regional lines; DPP may still win the second round. Almost all UDF votes will go to DPP because of the Southern Region, Yao-Lomwe connection. Part of Nkhotakota and Salima will vote DPP because the Yao Moslem connection, While Ntcheu might also vote DPP as the district aligns itself more to South than Central Region.

    The North might be split in the runoff since regionally the north does not trust MCP but they also do not love the South. There may actually be voter apathy in North.

    In the end tribal, regional and religious tendencies will show up its glaring head again. Unless we start voting based on something else; 50%+1 vote may not be the cure for the cancer Malawi is suffering from.

  16. mtete says:

    This is a welcome development. I just hope it will be implemented in readiness for 2019. As for Mr. Nditaba, he has never won an election and he, therefore, has no authority to comment. Incidentally, the cost of appointing someone with no clear mandate as a president is even more than what Mr. Nditaba is fearing.

  17. Mmalawi says:

    O Ntaba mwatani kodi? Vomerani kuti zikaterodi ya mchere isowa. Nanga kwanu kuja mwapindulanji ndi ma president ongokufunani panthawi ya chisankho? hooooo Ntaba ukhaula ndithu

  18. Ernest Phiri says:

    Bravo Special Law Commission. This a job well done. People do not listen from Hertherwick Ntaba. He wants to win favours from the state house. He knows the truth that 50+1 is the best way to use in electing the president. Let us learn from our neighbours. Malawi, we always want to remain behind, why. Legislators, make sure when the issue is brought to parliament for debate, you support it posistively and let it pass.

  19. Chimanga says:

    A Ntaba nkhawa biii, nkhawa bii nkhawa biii

    1. yamikani Uta says:

      Dont forget that democracy is expensive Dr Ntaba

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