Court dismisses MEC on extension

Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has suffered a fresh blow after the High Court sitting as a Constitutional Court dismissed its application to extend the inspection exercise of presidential ballots in the May 21 Tripartite Elections.

Through an ex-parte application, MEC lawyers wanted the court to extend the inspection period, which ended on Sunday, saying it was not enough to assess all the said documents.

Presidential ballot inspection in progress in Blantyre last week

But in a ruling dated July 4 2019, the court dismissed MEC’s application, observing that it was not carefully considered.

Reads the ruling in part: “The court finds the application ill-conceived on the grounds that the disclosures as ordered by the court were sought by the second petitioner [Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party-MCP] and not the second respondent [MEC].

“In any event, the material, the subject of the order of disclosure, are documents emanating from or authored by the second respondent [MEC] itself. Therefore, the application is dismissed.”

In an interview last evening, private practice lawyer Tamando Chokotho, a member of the MEC legal team in the case, said the application to extend ballot inspection could have benefitted all parties in the case.

Chokotho: It was for the benefit of all

He said the lawyers did not complete looking at all the documents the court ordered to be re-examined in the warehouses.

Said Chokotho: “We wanted to be allowed to finish looking at all the documents. Unfortunately, the court declined that we shouldn’t finish.

“So, the court ordered us to look at all the documents and the same court said we shouldn’t be given enough time to look at them. This could have benefited everyone involved in the case.”

In the case, set to start on July 29 2019, UTM Party president Saulos Chilima is the first petitioner while Chakwera is the second petitioner. President Peter Mutharika, by virtue of being the declared winner of the presidential election, is the first respondent with MEC as the second respondent.

On June 27, the five-judge panel of the Constitutional Court ordered specific disclosures by the electoral body, including provision of documents on audited election results to the court within 11 days.

The petitioners also got the court’s favour to have ballots and polling materials that would form part of the evidence in court safely kept by the Clerk of Parliament  under conditions of strict security.

Further, the court also directed that parties to the case should exchange or serve each other relevant documents, including responses, before July 29 when hearing of the substantive matter to the case is set to start.

In an interview on Thursday, private practice lawyer Chikosa Silungwe, who is lead counsel for Chilima, said the exercise started on Wednesday in Blantyre and was scheduled to extend to Lilongwe and Mzuzu.

He said: “The team will then move to Lilongwe where they will conduct similar exercises at Parliament warehouses before moving to Mzuzu. Thereafter, we will analyse what we have found as we build the case.”

The exercise, being coordinated by the office of the registrar of the High Court and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, is restricted to lawyers of the two petitioners—Chilima and Chakwera and respondents Mutharika and MEC—and other stakeholders.

During a visit to the warehouse in Blantyre rented by Parliament for keeping the ballots before their disposal, there was tight security with only specific and pre-cleared people allowed in.

Legal teams, court, Parliament and MEC staff were seen in the warehouse where ballot boxes and ballot papers are kept.

In the case, Chilima and Chakwera are seeking nullification of presidential election results over alleged irregularities.

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