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Pressure to Demand Term Limits for Malawi Parliament

  • Peter Clottey

Supporters of then-ruling United Democratic Front rallied for the 2004 national elections in Bagwe. Efforts to limit MPs to two five-year terms face heavy opposition in the National Assembly.
Two civil society organizations have started a public campaign to establish term limits for the 193 members of Malawi’s National Assembly.

Currently, legislators can remain in parliament for as long as they win re-election to another five-year term in their constituencies. Many have served for more than a decade. One member, 80-year-old John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), has been in office since the nation gained independence four decades ago.

Proponents of term limits propose members serve a limit of two terms. The constitution mandates the president can serve only two five-year terms.

Political experts say, however, that the proposal is unlikely to succeed anytime soon because legislators will prevent any constitutional term limit amendment.

Make room for younger voices

“We know that parliamentarians have an interest on this issue,” said Voice Mhone, chairman of the Council for Non-Governmental Organizations in Malawi (CONGOMA).

“But we will be looking at an avenue whereby we are going to engage the citizens of Malawi and the citizens of Malawi should pass on the message to their parliamentarians,” he says.

The current lack of term limits for parliamentarians violates the principles of democracy and denies young people the chance to play a role in the way the country is governed, Mhone said. Term limits would encourage new ideas as well as encourage the youth to more fully participate in the country’s democracy.

CONGOMA has united with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) to promote the issue among voters.

“So far, we have some members of parliament who have been there for more than 40 years, meaning more than 8 terms,” Mhone says. “It is an idea that is coming up so that we can marry this idea with the term limit that is given to the president.”

Source of economic stagnation?

Mohne says there has been very limited social or economic growth in most constituencies whose incumbent parliamentarians have served for more than 10 years.

“We know that other people have new ideas and the passion to serve their country and transform their constituencies,” Mhone says. “But they cannot stand against the incumbent, and therefore we are saying we should give a chance to other people.”

Mhone also said term limits would help facilitate development in the constituencies because elected legislators would be more committed to progress.

“[The] young and poor aspirants can’t get into leadership positions like becoming MPs because the old and incumbent legislators use everything at their disposal to cling to power for life,” Mhone said.