APM’s Withholding of Bills' Assent Sparks Debate

Mutharika: Gets legal mind's bill of approval Mutharika: Gets legal mind's bill of approval File Photo

The decision by President Peter Mutharika to withhold assent to recently passed electoral reforms bills has sparked a national discourse as the country prepares for fresh elections following the February orders of the Constitutional Court in the presidential election case.

But Sunduzwayo Madise, dean of the law faculty at Chancellor College, says in a public pronouncement that the decision by President Mutharika is lawful and within his mandate.

He says the constitution gives the president the mandate to either assent or withhold the assent as long as the president provides the basis of his decision and the same is sent to the Speaker of Parliament.

Mutharika’s decision was made public on the bills this week on Monday through a press briefing addressed by presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalirani.

Madise, also a commissioner of the Malawi Human Rights Commission, says while he does not rule out political outmaneuvering in the turn of events, Mutharika has used a lawful authority.

“Parliament can then debate the Bills again, if it desires, but can only do so after 21 days,” Madise writes on his Facebook page.

The status raises the question of what will now follow given the verdict of the Court.

It is increasingly becoming clear that the opponents of the determination of the court have found text in the constitution to counter the 500-page judgment of the constitutional court.

Mutharika came public with his decision on the bills on the 21 day from the day he received the bills. It is not clear when the next counting of the required 21 days begin for parliament to meet.

Assistant Clerk of Parliament Leonard Mengezi told Zodiak Online that Parliament has yet to receive the communication from the president on the bills. This could essentially mean that the 21 days will begin on the day Parliament receives the communication.

Meanwhile, the court ordered that the fresh presidential election be held within 150 days from February 3, 2020 when the determination on the presidential election case was made.

A legal expert who writes in the social media under the name Prof. Danwood Chirwa argues:

“The bills aim to implement the decisions of the Constitutional Court….These are not serious legal reforms to worry any political party including Mutharika.

“The power to sign bills into law doesn’t give the president judicial authority to decide what law is unconstitutional or what law is unconstitutional. The authority belongs to the courts”.

At the centre of the whole debate is interpretation of the constitution in the circumstances as the nation awaits fresh presidential elections in May.

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Last modified on Thursday, 19/03/2020

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