The High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court in Lilongwe yesterday learnt that Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) presiding officer signed off result sheets in Mzuzu and Rumphi at the same time.
The revelation came to light as lawyers for first petitioner and UTM Party presidential candidate Saulos Chilima started cross-examining Bob Chimkango, the second witness for President Peter Mutharika who is the first respondent in the case by virtue of being the declared winner of the presidential race in the disputed May 21 Tripartite Elections.
Parties to the case submitted volumes of exhibits to prove irregularities, on the part of petitioners, and disputing the same on the respondents’ side, but the public only gets to appreciate the evidence when lawyers routinely brings some of the evidence during cross-examination.
During yesterday’s proceedings, Bright Theu, a member of Chilima’s legal team, asked Chimkango about the signature of a MEC presiding officer made on result sheets of two separate centres in Mzuzu and Rumphi.
“Do you know the distance between Mzuzu and Rumphi? Have you travelled the distance?” Theu asked Chimkango, who is a lawyer working for State-owned Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC).
During cross-examination of petitioners’ witnesses, Mutharika and MEC lawyers focused on challenging the petition against the results by suggesting that the petitioners’ case is based on hearsay because there were no sworn statements from any of their monitors present at the various polling centres.
Yesterday, Theu appeared employed the same tactic on Chimkango, asking the witness if, as a representative of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), he contacted monitors in all the streams at each polling station “or at least a monitor from each of the 5 002 polling centres” before submitting his sworn statement.
Probing further, the lawyer also asked Chimkango whether DPP was concerned with occurrences of irregularities and at one point drew the witness to evidence of use of customised polling result sheets which were supposed to be used at one polling centre (St Michael School), but ended up at Msongwe School. Theu highlighted that the name of St Michael School Centre was crossed out manually with a pen and that of Msongwe added in the same manner.
In response, the witness suggested that the occurrence could possibly be due to missing documentation at Msongwe.
Earlier yesterday, Mutharika’s lawyer Frank Mbeta completed re-examination of his first witness Ben Phiri. The lawyer said he was satisfied by Phiri’s revision of several issues he was grilled on by lawyers representing Chilima and second petitioner Lazarus Chakwera, who is also Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president.
Speaking to journalists later, Mbeta said: “He [Phiri] has clarified all the issues that came out during the cross-examination. He has clarified on the issue of increased number of figures at a polling centre in Mzuzu because the Electoral Commission allowed students who were not registered there to vote.”
On party monitors, Phiri said he believed the results were not altered because no monitor has challenged the results.
The petitioners have been challenging results citing irregularities, but Mbeta also beamed on the screen a duplicate tally sheet on which only two signatures were used but the results indicated that Chilima was the leading candidate.
The five-judge panel comprising Ivy Kamanga, Healey Potani, Redson Kapindu, Mike Tembo and Dingiswayo Madise indicated it would conclude hearing the matter on December 6 and thereafter have about 45 days to deliver its verdict.
Chilima—who contested in the May 21 Tripartite Elections presidential race wearing the jacket of the country’s Vice-President after being voted to the office as a pair with Mutharika in 2014—and Chakwera are seeking nullification of the elections on the basis of irregularities in the results management system.