Age limit Bill feared to target individuals

Age limit Bill feared to target individuals

Legislator Kondwani Nankhumwa is not alone in efforts to cap the maximum presidential candidate age at 80 years, but the proposed law will struggle to pass in the House, a Nation on Sunday survey of MPs shows.

Nation on Sunday interviewed 171 members of Parliament (MPs) in the 193-strong House throughout last week.

Of those we talked to, 99 (57 percent) indicated that they would vote against the bill if it was tabled, 39 (22 percent) backed it, 25 (14 percent) were undecided while 12 (seven percent) abstained.

While those that oppose the bill cited discrimination by age as reason for their potential ‘No vote’, legislators who said will support proposed law argued that it does not make sense to limit presidential candidate minimum age to 35 without putting a cap on the maximum age.

Though the Bill was withdrawn last week, it is expected to resurface at a later stage, according to sources that confided our sister paper The Nation this week.

Peter Mutharika will be 85 next year

Attempts to reach out to all 193 Parliamentarians were met with challenges as some did not respond to our questionnaires while some did not pick our calls.

Those opposing the proposed constitutional changes claim the Bill is discriminatory and ill-timed as it is perceived to target former president Peter Mutharika who intends to run for president on the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ticket next year.

According to our survey, 45 opposers are opposition members while 44 are from the ruling band.

Recently suspended Mangochi Monkey Bay DPP legislator Ralph Jooma is among the opponents of the bill.

He said: “I would vote no to the age limit Bill. The reason is that anyone who is eligible to vote must be eligible to be voted into office.

“In fact, I would add to say that instead of focusing on the age limit, we should aim to lower the minimum age from 35 to around 20 to be more embracing than excluding.”

Malawi Congress Party (MCP) Lilongwe City Centre Constituency Parliamentarian Alfred Jiya said he would fight the bill.

Bingu wa Mutharika became president at 70

“The youth tap their wisdom from the elderly and the elderly achieve a lot from the energetic youth. We should, therefore, not try to discriminate against one another.

“Changing laws for no good reason is a waste of time and national resources,” he said.

Blantyre City South DPP lawmaker Noel Lipipa also declared his opposition to the potential tabling of the bill.

He argued: “There is no need to set a presidential term limit. If people want to be governed by Lipipa at the age of 90, then let it be. It’s their choice. Why should we restrict peoples’ choices?”

Some of the parliamentarians who oppose the bill said they would support the amendment of the Constitution if it was tabled in Parliament after the 2025 elections, pointing out that then, it will not be seen as targeting some individuals.

Out of those supporting the bill, 11 are opposition members while 10 are from the ruling side.

They argue, among others, that at over 80 years of age, usually one is physically unfit.

Karonga South MCP lawmaker Uchizi Mkandawire said he would back the bill, arguing: “Ordinarily, we should also be looking at the retirement age. Just like we say people should retire at a certain age, we have reasons.

Banda was 88 when he lost the presidency

“The lack of energy and their capabilities start going down. So, we are saying you cannot work beyond this age. Retire and enjoy your retirement benefits. Why should we have somebody more than 80 years still serving, especially a tiresome job such as the presidency? You need someone who is physically fit and energetic.”

Mulanje Central Constituency legislator Kondwani Nankhumwa—currently fighting to remain leader of opposition after his party, DPP, expelled him—intended to table the bill in the current budget Meeting before withdrawing it last week.

According to a memorandum of the withdrawn proposed amendment, the bill sought to amend Section 80 (6) (b) of the Constitution, which provides for age eligibility of presidential candidates.

It reads in part: “Section 80 (6) (b) of the Constitution Act No 20 of 1994 of the laws of Malawi [hereinafter referred to as the ‘Constitution’] is amended by inserting the following new words ‘and is not more than eighty years old’ at the end of Section 80 (6) (b).” This was going to be a second attempt after a similar move.

But sources confided in our sister paper The Nation that the withdrawal was tactical, adding that the bill would still find its way into the august House.

Mzuzu University political analyst Chrispine Mphande said he was not surprised with the results as the proposal to table the bill is coming at a wrong time.

He argued that the mentality of parliamentarians is that they are targeting individuals.

“Apart from that, some of the parliamentarians are in their 70s and they fear they may not get a shot at the presidency due to the age cap,” he said.

Mphande also said the MPs’ attitude towards the bill might change if it was tabled after the 2025 elections.

“I believe that the bill could be supported if it was tabled later after next year’s polls. Then we can say it’s for national cause. I am also behind calls for a law that limits the presidency to those not above 80 years.

“We can’t have tired people holding such a critical position,” he said.

The bill failed in 2018 when former DPP legislator for Nsanje South West Joseph Chidanti-Malunga proposed that the maximum age for those aspiring for the presidency should be capped at 65.

But history is defiant.

First President Kamuzu Banda contested in the country’s first multiparty elections aged 88 years and was succeeded by Bakili Muluzi who left office at 61.

Bingu wa Mutharika, who took over from Muluzi at 70, was succeeded by Joyce Banda who was 62. Bingu’s brother, Peter, who succeeded Joyce Banda, was voted out of the office in 2020 at 80.

Section 80(6) of the Constitution stipulates that a person is eligible for election as President or Vice-President if he or she is a citizen of Malawi by birth or descent and has attained the minimum age of 35, but there is no maximum age cap.

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