HRDC reiterates call for legislative and constitutional reforms to eliminate ‘unreasonable age barriers to political participation’

Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has reiterated its call for relevant legislative and constitutional reforms to be initiated “with the aim of eliminating all unreasonable age barriers to political participation”.

A statement from national chairperson, Gift Trapence and his management team says this comes following “inaccurate reports published in some media outlets alleging that the organisation would oppose former President Peter Mutharika’s presidential election candidacy in 2025”.

“HRDC wishes to make its position clear, that the organisation is not opposed to anyone seeking to stand in the next election so long as their quest for election is within the law.

“Currently, the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi only prescribes 35 years as the minimum age for a presidential candidate but is silent on the maximum age limit for presidential hopefuls,” says the statement.

Peter Mutharika is aged 82 and was 74 when he was elected President in 2014 while the incumbent, Lazarus Chakwera is aged 68 and was 65 when he ousted APM.

Chakwera (68) was 65 when he ousted Peter Mutharika

The first President in the multiparty Malawi, Bakili Muluzi was 51 when he was elected in 2004 and left office at 61 while his successor, late Bingu wa Mutharika died in office at 78 having been elected at 70.

His Vice-President, Joyce Banda — at 62 — was 59 when she succeeded Bingu in 2012 while incumbent Vice-President, Saulos Chilima is aged 50 years.

HRDC further says while it supports inclusive participation of young people in elected positions, it stands “firm in protecting and promoting of rights of people — hence, HRDC is against the stereotyping of, and discrimination against, people based on old age”.

“We condemn in no uncertain terms all negative perceptions and assumptions about older persons, which remain deeply ingrained in our society. These prejudices devalue older persons depicting them as frail, non-contributors and a burden to society.

“At the same time, HRDC is aware of some of the stringent and discriminatory provisions in the Constitution regarding age qualifications to stand for elected political positions.

“For example, we note with deep concern that these provisions continue to unfairly limit young people’s opportunity to run for office.

“Currently, young people are underrepresented in leadership positions. This is happening despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change, and their right to participate equally in democratic governance.”

Bakili Muluzi (1994-2004); Bingu wa Mutharika (2004-2012); Joyce Banda (2012-2014); Peter Mutharika (2014-2020)

The civil society organization further said “reasonableness” must be applied in constituting the legislative and constitutional reforms “bearing in mind the provisions in section 44(1) of the Constitution of Malawi, which require that any restrictions or limitations to the exercise of any rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution should be based on objective and reasonable criteria, be recognized by international human rights standards, and be necessary in an open and democratic society”.

Last week, Walita Moir Mkandawire — whose name is appended on HRDC’s May 2 statement representing the CSO’s Northern Region Chapter — was quoted by the media as hinting that opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader, Peter Mutharika risked being barred from seeking re-election in 2025.

He was quoted as saying the HRDC Northern Region Chapter had “embarked on a move aimed at rallying political players to stop grandparents aged 75 and above to stand for political office”.

He is reported to have told the media that they are planning to court Members of Parliament “to help in amending one of the sections in the Republican Constitution so that those who are above 75 years cannot contest for political office”.

It was also reported that their proposal has since been endorsed by People’s Party MP for Mzimba South East, Ackson Kalaile Banda, who said critical positions like that of the president need fresh, serious and mature people.

UTM MP for Mzimba Luwerezi Sam Chirwa was also reported to have supported the proposal — quoted as saying Malawians no longer need “sign post presidency”, while Karonga Central Malawi Congress Party Legislator, Leonard Mwalwanda indicated that the age limit should also be extended to MPs.

“This is a good idea, but why are they leaving MPs behind?” He was quoted as saying. “If retirement is now at 60, why should someone be an MP in his or her 70s and 80s? How would the President or MP make good plans for the youth when he or she is over 75 years old?”

Sometime in 2018, former Nsanje South West MP Joseph Chidanti Malunga moved a motion in Parliament on the age limit for presidential aspirants, pegging the maximum age at 65 -+ seeking an amendment to Section 80(7) of the Constitution.

Other members of HRDC who endorsed the statement that was issued on Tuesday were Michael Kaiyatsa (vice-chairperson); Madalitso Banda (Eastern Regional chair); Masauko Thawe (Southern Regional chair) and Beatrice Mateyo (board member).

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Mike Phiri
Mike Phiri
1 year ago

HRDC are political puppets, not useful to our times.

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