‘Court holds solution to impasse’

Legal, political and economic experts have warned that delays in concluding the presidential election petition case at the Constitutional Court is detrimental to the country’s socio-economic, which might plunge more people into misery.

While they agree that a solution outside the court involving all parties is ideal to diffuse the tension, experts feel a timely determination by the court remains the tangible solution to the current situation.

The Constitutional Court had set aside 12 days to hear the case, but since it started last Thursday, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), through Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale, is yet to conclude cross-examining the first petitioner, UTM Party leader Saulos Chilima.

This is despite MEC lawyers, led by Tamando Chokotho, having said they have 748 sworn statements, explaining that this meant the number of their witnesses to appear in court.

On the other hand, Khumbo Soko, one of Chilima’s lawyers, said they have 40 witnesses while Titus Mvalo, one of the lawyers for the second petitioner, Lazarus Chakwera’s legal team, said they have between 15 to 20 witnesses in the case.

In an interview yesterday, lawyer Justin Dzonzi observed that when the Constitutional Court set the 12 days, it had good intentions, arguing that under normal circumstances, the said period was enough to hear the case.

However, he said the current activities in court, especially the cross-examination was delaying.

He said: “What we have seen is that cross-examination of the first petitioner has already taken up over three days. Obviously, this has an impact in terms of the overall time allocated to the case. With all factors constant, if the current type of cross-examination goes unchecked, chances are that there is no way hearing of the case will be concluded within 12 days.

“What seems to come out clearly is that the Attorney General has taken a cross-examination style that is perhaps not sensitive to time. As a legal practitioner, I know you cannot stop a party from cross-examination issues which they think are pertinent to the case, but if you listen to the first line of cross-examination for over two or three hours, it was primarily on making the first petitioner read legal provisions.”

Dzonzi said witnesses are brought to court not for purposes of interpreting the law, but to bring facts and that the interpretation of the law must be left to judges and lawyers.

Happy Kayuni, a Chancellor College based-political analyst believes that the electorate have too much trust in the court, but any delays could worsen the political situation.

He said: “It is very evident that things are not fine. People have trust in the court. However, any delays will not help matters.

“Some think that delays in the court will make people forget, but the opposite is the truth. We have seen that protesters have become very violent and people on social media are speaking with so much anger.”

For Kayuni, it is high time parties involved in the matter started preparing themselves and their supporters on the delay and possible outcomes from the court.

“People need to know that the court may not be the only solution to the current situation. There is need to look for other solutions on how best to deal with the tension. Parties must seriously start engaging and preparing on that, especially when you look at the possibility of the case taking long,” he added.

Governance and policy expert Rafiq Hajat of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) said the current situation is not just about resignation of MEC chairperson Jane Ansah, but  accumulation of outrage emanating from impunity, high-level corruption and bad governance.

“This is a demand for greater accountability and transparency from government, it’s not just about Jane Ansah. So, while the court is doing its job, government must start  cleaning itself up, let it deal with corruption, stop impunity and the anger will go,” he suggested.

On his part, executive director of the Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama) Maleka Thula said much as dialogue involving all players could help, the situation on the ground is different, as it is not paying dividends.

He said the economy responds to market news, which at the moment, remains unpredictable due to the court case which can take long and the ongoing wave of demonstrations.

“Even after the determination is made, we will still have to deal with the outcome, so the longer that takes, the more the economy gets hurt,” he said. President Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Party (DPP), who was declared by MEC as winner in the presidential race, is the first respondent and the electoral body is the second respondent.

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