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.
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.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :