The Public Affairs Committee (PAC) has postponed the December 13 demonstrations to a later date.
Primarily, the protests were meant to push for the tabling of the electoral reform bills during the current sitting of parliament.
By Monday, five of the six bills had been brought to parliament.
The electoral reform bills include a proposal for the introduction of the 50+1 system, which would require a presidential candidate to secure more than 50% of the total votes cast in an election, in order to be declared winner.
The committee has however justified its decision to postpone the demonstrations.
The announcement was made during a press briefing held in Lilongwe on Tuesday.
This development comes amid mixed views by the public and civil society organisations on the planned protests.
Formed in 1992 during the Malawi’s political transition from one party to multi party system of government, the Public Affairs Committee remains a key civil society organisation in the field of human right, mediation, advocacy, HIV/AIDS, Gender Based Violence, religious co-existence, electoral processes and peace and security.
The founders are Malawi Law Society, Malawi Chamber of Commerce, CCAP Blantyre Synod, CCAP Livingstonia Synod, CCAP General Synod, Diocese of Lake Malawi of Anglican Church, Diocese of Southern Malawi of Anglican Church, Episcopal Conference of Malawi, Malawi Council of Churches and Muslim Association of Malawi.
A call is going out to the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) to come out clearly on the reasons behind Wednesday’s peaceful demonstrations in Malawi.
The leadership of the Forum for National Democracy questions the change in the reasons for the protests.
Initially, the PAC had indicated that the protests were meant to push for the tabling and passing of electoral reform and Local Government Amendment Bills.
As the clock is ticking towards the set date, the leadership of PAC has decided to also include social issues and what it calls transformative leadership, as part of the reasons for the demos.
They are also demanding the freeing up of the state controlled Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and answers to the persistent blackouts.
Fryson Chodzi who is the National Coordinator for the Forum for National Unity, questions the PAC’s actions.
“PAC has to be in control, there are many issues in the country that need to be spoken up about and not just electoral reforms,” Chodzi said.
Other observers are of the view that the issue of demonstrating on the said issues was avoidable.
According to Patrick Achitabwino who is a writer on mindset change at the end of the day the justification has been haphazard and herald up because the reforms need to first be made known to the people that will eventually be affected once they have been implemented.
The government has since last week been bringing some of the electoral reform bills to Parliament.
Peter Mulomole Speaks for the PAC told Capital FM that they will not reconsider their decision on holding the peaceful protests as government has not lived up to its promise of tabling all of the bill at the same time.
The last time nationwide demonstrations were conducted in Malawi was on the 20th July, 2011.
It did not end well though. At least 20 people lost their lives while others had their property looted and destroyed.
The leadership of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) is exploring ways of ensuring the December 13 demonstrations are conducted in a peaceful manner.
It admits it is overwhelmed by the response from other stakeholders including churches and nongovernmental organisations, which indicates more people may turn up for the protest march.
The latest to endorse the march was the Quddria Muslim Association of Malawi which called on its members to participate and exercise their rights citizens.
The call was made after the Catholic Church also did the same last weekend with the country’s vice president Saulos Chilima reading out announcements of the march during church service in Lilongwe.
Analysts have called on law enforcement agencies to ensure that they provide maximum security during the demonstrations as there are fears that some overzealous citizens may take advantage of the protests and engage in chaotic activities contrary to that of the committee.
During the 2011 July 20 demonstrations, violence erupted which led to the death of over 20 individuals. The march was aimed at voicing out frustrations over the then late President Bingu w Mutharika’s rule.
Speaking in an interview with Capital FM, PAC Publicity Secretary Peter Mulomole admitted their concern is on how to handle the magnitude of people that are likely to participate in the march next week.
Mulomole added that they will not call off the protests even though government has disclosed that they will start tabling the electoral reform bills.
“We are not interested in the partial presentation of the bills, we want them all tabled at once,” Mulomole said.
Last month, the committee also conducted demonstrations and delivered a petition to government pushing for the same.
The Malawi government continues to come under pressure to have the Electoral Reform bills tabled in the current sitting of parliament.
Malawians and the Civil Society have been pushing for the bill to be discussed and passed into law for it to be applied in the 2019 General Elections.
Analysis by Christy Gomani
Parliamentarians and voters were looking forward to the current sitting of parliament as the beginning of a new chapter in the electoral system.
There were high expectations that the bill would find its way in.
Since discussions about the bill issue started in 2006, it has been observed that successive ruling parties are reluctant to have the bills tabled.
One of the recommendations in the proposed bills popularly is the 50+1 system.
This would require a winning Presidential candidate to amass over fifty percent of the votes cast, to be declared winner.
This is instead of the current system in which the winner of an election is determined by who has the most votes, regardless of whether they are below or over 50%.
Different stakeholders are opposing the current system, saying it does not guarantee that a candidate assumes the office of the president with majority votes.
Critics believe that successive governments do not support the bills, particularly the 50+1 proposal, because they fear that they would not be able to achieve the required numbers.
Just recently, the Public Affairs Committee issued a statement to push for government to follow through with its promise and have the bills tabled.
A statement was issued indicating that parliament will not be able to discuss the bill during this sitting.
In reaction, PAC is organising nationwide peaceful demonstrations to be held on Wednesday next week.
In a democratic and dramatic response, some chiefs were paraded on the state broadcaster, speaking against the demonstrations, claiming there is need for further consultation if the bill is to be taken before the legislators.
Some of these Chiefs however, are said to have been in previous discussion forums some years back, when consultations about the bill were being made.
This was revealed during Capital FM’s Sunday Round Table program over the weekend.
The Executive Director of Youth and Society Charles Kajoloweka, thinks these chiefs are acting under influence from the government.
Unandi Banda of the National Elections Systems Trust shares the sentiments and thinks the government is failing to walk its talk.
The Leader of the opposition and President of the Malawi Congress Party Lazarus Chakwera feels this is the only suitable time to bring the bill to parliament.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party, however through its spokesperson Francis Kasaira, maintains that there is need for further consultations before the bills are brought to parliament.
It is high time that stakeholders reached an agreement, bearing in mind that there are only seventeen months left before the next elections are to be held in the country.
If Malawians are fail to prepare, then it is obvious they are preparing to fail.
Commentators say Vice President Saulos Chilima has put himself on a collision path with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) by reading an announcement in church, calling on Catholics in Malawi to join a nationwide electoral reforms march.
The vice president was part of the congregation at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Area 18 in the capital Lilongwe, on Sunday and read the protest statement alongside other church announcements.
The DPP led government whose second in command is Chilima, is opposing calls by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to have the electoral reforms bill tabled during the current sitting of parliament.
But by reading the protest announcement, the Vice President has given an impression that he is in support of the 13th December demonstrations organised by the Public Affairs Committee.
Commenting on social media platforms, including Facebook, some Malawians describe the move by Chilima as wrong since he is part of the government.
Others however feel he was simply actively participating in church activities, by reading out the announcements.
For a while now, there has been speculation that Chilima is not in good books with some members of the DPP, with some pointing out that this incident might further alienate him.
Chilima has been quoted by various media houses claiming to have been ambushed as he had no knowledge of what consisted of the documents and simply read them out.
Background Public Affairs Committee
According to information is the grouping’s website, PAC was formed in 1992 during the Malawi’s political transition from one party to multi party system of government.
It remains a key civil society organisation in the field of human right, mediation, advocacy, HIV/AIDS, Gender based Violence, religious co-existence, electoral processes and peace and security.
The founders are Malawi Law Society, Malawi Chamber of Commerce, CCAP Blantyre Synod, CCAP Livingstonia Synod, CCAP General Synod, Diocese of Lake Malawi of Anglican Church, Diocese of Southern Malawi of Anglican Church, Episcopal Conference of Malawi, , Malawi Council of Churches, Muslim Association of Malawi during its formation, it assumed various names such as: Ecumenical Committee, Extra-ordinary Committee, Malawi National Affairs Committee, National Affairs Committee. Then, became Public Affairs Committee during Chilema meeting in August of 1992.