Court shapes elections case

There were mixed fortunes in the case where two petitioners are seeking nullification of the presidential results in the May 21 Tripartite Elections as the Constitutional Court yesterday granted some wishes and overruled others.

The court’s rulings on preliminary applications has set the stage for the full hearing of the elections case to start on July 29 this year. In the case, the country’s immediate past vice-president Saulos Chilima, who represented UTM Party in the presidential race, is the first petitioner while Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera is the second petitioner with President Peter Mutharika and Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) as first and second respondents, respectively.

Co-petitioners: Chakwera (L) and Chilima

Ruling yesterday at the end of the scheduling conference, a panel of five judges of the High Court of Malawi comprising Healey Potani, Dingiswayo Madise, Ivy Kamanga, Redson Kapindu and Mike Tembo granted the petitioners their wish that MEC should provide proof on how it resolved the 147 electoral queries lodged.

The court also ordered the electoral body to provide documents on audited election results to the court within 11 days.

Further, the petitioners got the five-judge panel’s favour to have ballots and polling materials that would form part of evidence in court safely kept by the Clerk of Parliament (CoP) under conditions of strict security.

The five-judge panel, that is travelling in a convoy to and from the court premises under Malawi Defence Force escort, said the electoral materials be deposited with CoP within 11 days from yesterday.

The two petitioners also walked out of the court smiling after the court allowed them access to MEC servers and that bid documents for the recruitment of election auditors and the names of the auditors should be disclosed.

But the court dismissed the petitioners’ request for MEC to release bank details of its data entry clerks, saying such action was beyond the mandate of the electoral body. The court observed that allowing MEC access to the staff’s bank accounts would be an infringement of their right to privacy.

The petitioners were also not successful in their wish for the court to order replacement of MEC commissioners in the event that the Constitutional Court finds reasonable grounds to order a rerun or fresh elections for the presidential seat.

Earlier, the petitioners argued that Mutharika, who was declared winner, added weight to their fears that the election results were manipulated when he claimed at a victory rally for his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) at Njamba Freedom Park in Blantyre that his votes were also stolen, especially in the Central Region.

Senior Counsel Modecai Msisha, who is the lead counsel for Chakwera, said in an earlier interview with the media outside the court on Wednesday that they made a broad application for disclosures by MEC to safeguard evidence.

Mutharika and MEC have since filed an appeal in the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, but the High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court ruled that the respondents can proceed with the appeal while the substantive matter proceeds.

In an interview on Wednesday, Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale, who is representing MEC in the matter, said there was legal precedence for a case to be heard simultaneously at the High Court and Supreme Court; hence, the court’s decision to allow the move.

Unlike the situation during the past few days, yesterday the atmosphere outside the court premises was peaceful without scores of MCP and UTM supporters who used to swarm the vicinity.

Prior to commencement of hearing on July 29, the parties to the case are expected to exchange documents, including sworn affidavits and evidence.

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