Section 65 of the Constitution is very clear about Members of Parliament (MPs) who defect to other political parties.
It states: “The Speaker shall declare vacant the seat of any member of the National Assembly who was, at the time his or her election, a member of one political party represented in the National Assembly, other than by that member alone but who has voluntarily ceased to be a member of that party and has joined another political party represented in the National Assembly.”
However, over the years various speakers of the National Assembly have let down the electorate by deliberately ignoring Section 65. For example, Felix Jumbe the former Malawi Congress Party MP for Salima Central and Uladi Mussa People’s Party for Salima South joined the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2018. Surprisingly, the Speaker failed to declare their seats vacant for reasons one could not understand.
Many MPs who defect to the governing party are looking for personal benefits such as contracts, tenders and other business opportunities and not serving their voters or the country as they claim. Some receive bribes to a make a switch while others want to run away from criminal prosecution. How can an MP say they have decided to join the ruling party because they want to work or assist government to develop the country? Are they not part of government?
Opposition MPs are part of government. They promote democracy and good governance by providing checks and balances to the executive. The framers of the constitution included Section 65 for good reasons one of which is to prevent MPs from cheating their constituents. Many Malawian MPs like kulya (eating). And because they lack an ideological base, they easily abandon their constituents to follow where the money is. These political opportunists have nothing to offer Malawians except to chase personal gains.
Why should a candidate who vigorously campaigned and won an election on a party ticket suddenly change their political allegiance when their political party fail to get into government? And why should an MP only defect to the governing party and after an election?
Malawi is coming from an acrimonious fresh presidential election held on 23 May 2020. It is an open secret that DPP MPs vehemently defend their party and Peter Mutharika to remain in power during the campaign period. They waged a verbal war against MCP and UTM in an attempt to frustrate the electorate to vote for change. Now they have the audacity to announce to the world that they have switched their allegiance to either MCP or UTM from DPP. They must lose their parliamentary seats!
MPs and the Speaker should be reminded that there is already a ruling by the High Court and the Supreme Court against crossing the floor.
“In 2005 MPs from both Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) crossed the floor to the newly formed Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of President Bingu wa Mutharika. However, the UDF wrote the Speaker in October 2005 requesting him to declare MPs’ seats vacant. The High Court judges ( Twea, Potani, and Kapanda) held the validity of Section 65 of the Constitution and ruled that the MPs had crossed the floor.
“Unsatisfied with the High Court ruling, President Mutharika, through his lawyers, appealed to the Supreme Court. On 15 June 2007 the Supreme Court of Appeal, led by former Chief Justice L E Unyolo, J B Kalaile, D G Tambala, I J Mtambo and A K Tembo upheld the High Court.” (Mtonga:2013)
This is a litmus test for Speaker Catherine Gotani Hara to be decisive enough and declare vacant a seat of any MP who has crossed the floor. She should rise about party politics and uphold the law. Previous Speakers failed the nation. The Tonse Alliance government has pledged to uphold the law. There is no justification for the Speaker not to declare vacant the seats of MPs who have crossed the floor. It is her constitutional duty to invoke Section 65 whenever an MP crosses the floor. It defeats the purpose of having the law if it is not used. It also sends a wrong signal to the society: that a person can flout the law and get away with it.
We need to bring sanity to our politics. MPs who cross the floor undermine the will of the voters, undermine representative democracy and corrupts the political system. They have to lose their seats and seek fresh mandate from the electorate. Hence, it has to be automatic that if an MP joins another political party a by-election has to be held.
More importantly, MPs have to abide by the rules that they make. Action has to be taken against those who break the law. Floor crossing is a “punishable” act. Malawi degenerated into lawlessness during DPP government because law enforcers abdicated their responsibility. MCP and Tonse Alliance government should refrain from doing this.
Invoking Section 65 will go a long away in restoring public trust which was eroded during DPP government.