Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera has resigned as member of Parliament (MP) for Lilongwe North West supposedly to comply with the Constitution before presenting his presidential nomination papers today.
But his decision has stirred debate with some legal minds suggesting that he should have first sought legal guidance from the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) on the interpretation of Section 87(7)(e) of the Constitution on whether he should resign now or wait for March 20 when legally the 2014 to 2019 Parliament will stand dissolved.
Chakwera, who tendered his resignation through the Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya on February 1 2019, effectively also ceases to be leader of opposition in Parliament.
Briefing journalists at Malawi Sun Hotel in Blantyre, he said he had resigned in respect of the law and would handover his leader of opposition privileges, including the official vehicle.
Said Chakwera: “The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi requires that I resign from these positions in order to accept your nomination of me as your preferred candidate for President.”
A lawyer said the constitutional provision does not affect an incumbent President or Vice-President to avoid creating a power vacuum.
Commenting on the resignation, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College dean of law, Sunduzwayo Madise, faulted MEC electoral calendar for not considering legislators who want to contest as presidents as Parliament is constitutionally set to be dissolved in March after submission of nominations.
He commended Chakwera for his resignation as MP and leader of opposition and suggested that MCP should elect an acting leader of opposition.
But another legal scholar also based at Chancellor College, Ngeyi Kanyongolo, noted that it was not peculiar for MEC to receive nomination papers before Parliament is dissolved as it also happened in 2014.
In a separate interview, MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said the issue was one of several raised in the Electoral Reforms Bill but the process was not finalised.
Writing on Facebook on Chakwera’s resignation, a senior counsel (SC) observed that past constitutional practice holds the interpretation that one is only an official nominee at the commencement of the official campaign which coincides with legal dissolution of Parliament on March 20.
In the 2009 presidential race, then legislators Joyce Banda, John Tembo, Brown Mpinganjira, Clement Stambuli and Loveness Gondwe risked being technically barred from submitting nominations either as presidential candidates or running mates as they were still serving as MPs. However, MEC processed their submissions.
During the news conference, Chakwera, flanked by his running mate Mohammad Sidik Mia, also announced that MCP had entered into an electoral alliance with Freedom Party whose president is the country’s former vice-president Khumbo Kachali.
MEC is on record as having said it switched to receiving nominations in February to allow more time for printing of ballot papers.