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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Welani Chilenga resuscitates Age Limit Bill

Chitipa South legislator Welani Chilenga has filed notice in Parliament to table the controversial  constitutional amendment to make any person above 80 years of age ineligible to contest for the presidency.

The Bill was initiated by Mulanje Central Parliamentarian Kondwani Nankhumwa, but he withdrew it from the Order Paper.

According to the notice Malawi Voice has seen, the Bill seeks to amend Section 80 (6)(b) of the Constitution which provides for age eligibility of presidential candidates.

Reads in part the Bill: “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).”

Currently, 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.

Chilenga argues that given the demands of the offices of the President, First Vice-President and/or Second Vice-President, there is need for energetic office holders who can be productive and be able to steer State and government business in the right direction.

The notice reached the office of Speaker of Parliament on March 26, 2024.

Before Nankhuma withdrew tabling the Bill, Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Patrick Mpaka had opined that the Constitution in Section 87 addresses issues of capability of a President and Vice-President, as such, there is no constitutional gap that the proposed amendment seeks to address.

He said: “The justification and reason for the proposed Bill seem to be more of conjecture than empirically supported by evidence that at a certain age every person loses or gains capacity to effectively oversee the functions of the office of a President or Vice-President.

Welani Chilenga: Takes over Age Limit Bill

“Amending a Constitution is quite a serious matter and should ordinarily seek to advance and protect the public rather than the private interests of individual politicians. Proposed changes to the Constitution must be objective and have regard to the wishes of the people of Malawi generally.”

Mpaka said such a proposed change comes through a proper public Bill  not a private member’s Bill, saying unless there are exceptional grounds, parliamentarians “must invariably limit their role to enacting rather than initiating laws”.

In 2017, a report by the Special Law Commission on Electoral Reforms said it would be difficult to justify such an exclusion where a potential candidate was, for all relevant purposes, fit and able to execute the functions of an elected office.

Further, the Constitutional Review Report of 2007 also looked at the matter and the commission then considered that this was a political issue best left to the political process.

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