When unassuming individuals like the Archbishop of Lilongwe Diocese, His Grace Tarcisio Ziyaye go to the extent of clearing all hurdles to priests’ participation in a protest; the proverbial writing might as well be on the wall.
In case you missed this development, Blues’ Orators listen up.
A few days ago Archbishop Ziyaye suspended a priests’ meeting scheduled for December 13 so that the priests can join the nationwide peaceful protests organised by the Public Affairs Committee (Pac).
If you are the ‘only visitor in Jerusalem’ and wondering what’s so special with the protests; the long and short of it is that the Malawi Government, cognisant of the need to overhaul our electoral laws, commissioned a Special Law Commission mandated to review, consult and recommend ways to make our democracy more inclusive and our elections more transparent.
Why is reforming electoral laws taking centre stage when we all know that man shall not live on free and fair elections alone?
Read on, I will explain.
On May 23, 2004 ten-year-old Epiphania Bonjesi was brutally shot by the Malawi Police in Chilobwe – Blantyre when they used live ammunition to quell post-elections demonstrations.
Epiphania was shot right on her parents’ backyard then rushed to hospital where she died the following day. May her beautiful soul continue resting in peace.
If I remember correctly, Bishop Ziyaye was then head of Blantyre Diocese. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but if the good Bishop didn’t personally solemnise Epiphania’s funeral service; he sent a high-level envoy.
Epiphania is just one example of what mismanaged elections can do.
If you follow international news, you have heard of strife, wars and rumours of war elsewhere as a result of post-election conflict.
The root cause of such conflict, in almost all cases, lies in outdated and imbalanced electoral frameworks and laws which are compounded by bias and corruption in elections management.
However, it all starts with the electoral laws.
Although prevention is better than cure; for far too long we have been taking things for granted despite losing Epiphania.
But we can’t bank on mother luck and/ or prayer all the time. We must proactively improve laws and processes because left to their own devices, they have the potential to harm us.
We shouldn’t continue living in a fools’ paradise and deluding ourselves that Malawi is immune from the strife and woe that happens in other countries due to post-election conflicts.
Such an attitude is not only naïve, but outright stupid.
More importantly, we must rise above the mediocre thinking that the Electoral Reforms will only benefit this or that party; or that in demanding these reforms we are helping Dr Lazarus Chakwera, Saulos Chilima, Richard Msowoya, Enoch Chihana, Sidik Mia, Juliana Lunguzi, Atupele Muluzi, or whosoever it will be, to unseat Peter Mutharika in 2019.
Genuine reforms that bring sanity and the much needed integrity to our electoral systems are our first line of defence, perhaps even more than the defence and security forces.
It is in this spirit that I commend the Archbishop Ziyaye for realising that a stitch in time saves nine and releasing the clergy to lead their flock in the protests which, if President Arthur Peter Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party (Malawi) (DPP) had been not been intransigent, would not have been necessary at all.
“The march which has been organised by the Public Affairs Committee is of national interest; hence, the Archbishop thought it wise to suspend the meeting which was to be held on December 13, the same day of the protest, to allow members to participate.”
This far, I am also impressed by Pac’s steadfastness in refusing to be hoodwinked by the piecemeal tabling of the bills.
We need all the six bills and a leadership that is responsive to our aspirations and tribulations.
For Epiphania Bonjesi’s sake, violence-free elections, elections that Malawians can trust and electoral processes which remove all doubt about who has won or lost the elections; are the least we Malawians deserve.
What are the six bills all about?
The first is the Referendum Bill, designed to provide for the conduct and holding of referenda in Malawi and other matters to do with holding a referendum.
Second is the Electoral Commission Amendment Bill which establishes a Selection Panel mandated to scrutinize electoral commissioners before recommending the best qualified to the President.
This will change the current status where the President arbitrarily appoints dubious commissioners.
Other bills on which the DPP is seating include the Constitution (Amendment) Bill.
It proposes a single member constituency per district, where only women will compete and that the President be elected by a majority of more than 50% of valid votes cast through direct, universal and equal suffrage. This is a departure from the current First-Past-the-Post.
Elections require funds and hence there is the Elections Management Fund Bill with which to finance the management and administration of elections. This will free the Electoral Commission from the whims of whosoever is holding the purse.
Then there is the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Bill. It defines the conduct of elections to the Office of the President, the National Assembly and Council.
Last but not least is the Assumption of Office of the President (Transitional Arrangements) Bill which regulates transition from one administration to another following a general election.
As you can see Blues’ Orators, there is nothing sinister in these bills.
Again, the bills are not about Chakwera or anyone else, they are about our safety and our continued enjoying the peace and calm, law and order we are blessed with.
The question is: if our leaders really love Malawi and want us to continue enjoying the civil-war free status which is the only wealth we can boast of as Malawians; why do we have to protest for them to do our bidding?
In whose interest are the current flawed electoral laws which puts the Epiphanias of our lovely country, including your and my daughters at the mercy of trigger-happy policemen during election time?
Blues’ Orators, having duly demonstrated above that a stitch in time does not only save nine, it saves lives; I look forward to peacefully protesting with you on December 13th.