Fresh poll hullabaloo

Malawi Electoral Commission’s (MEC) announcement of the fresh presidential election calendar has attracted criticism from commentators who say opposition political parties can now challenge the commissioners on conducting the election.

MEC, led by its chairperson Jane Ansah, on Monday announced the fresh presidential election calendar despite a report from the Public Appointments Committee (PAC) of Parliament finding the commissioners incompetent to preside over an election.

Ansah (C) delivers the statement as other commissioners listen

PAC’s findings followed the February 3 Constitutional Court ruling which mandated the committee to evaluate the commissioners’ performance and make appropriate recommendations to President Peter Mutharika. One of the recommendations was that they be removed from office.

But in separate interviews on Monday, governance and law experts said while the current commissioners are proceeding with the fresh presidential election, the ball is now in the hands of the opposition political parties to seek other alternatives, including court intervention, among others.

In a written response, professor of law at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, Garton Kamchedzera, said the opposition political parties can return to the court and allege that enforcement of the judgement is being frustrated by one of the parties in the elections case who happens to be Mutharika.

He said: “Despite the relevant committee of Parliament finding the commissioners incompetent and making a recommendation that they be removed, Mutharika, a party to the case, has made a decision in his own cause, notwithstanding appealing against the judgement.

“He has decided to reject a recommendation from Parliament that stems from the judgement that has to be implemented. So, his decision to reject the recommendation could be set aside on that ground.”

Mutharika last week said he would not remove the commissioners citing several reasons for sparing them.

The reasons Mutharika cited included that the commissioners were given less time to prepare for the hearings, their invitation letters were not disclosed in the report and that the committee could have been prejudiced by findings of the Constitutional Court.

But Kamchedzera on Mondaysaid the commissioners are removable on the basis that they lack capacity and that the opposition can do whatever they can to avoid getting frustrated by pushing for their removal.

On his part, governance commentator Rafiq Hajat said the loss of confidence in the current commissioners will seriously undermine credibility of any election.

Hajat, who is also executive director of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI), said it would, therefore, be important that there is a complete overhaul at MEC before any new election is conducted.

“The opposition can certainly pursue options outside Parliament such as boycotts, demonstrations and judicial remedies to ensure that the desired changes are indeed effected prior to participating in any future election,” he said.

In addition, Hajat said the whole scenario is a severe test of the country’s Constitution and systems of governance and that the outcome will hopefully clarify many issues that have been simmering under the surface and resolution of these contentious issues will benefit Malawians by bringing clarity.

University of Livingstonia political scientist George Phiri said the Constitutional Court or judiciary should come in to level the ground for all candidates in the matter.

He said: “The opposition political parties should not be frustrated because that will give their opponent an upper hand. Election results that can be accepted by the majority should be conducted in accordance with electoral laws governing that country.”

Phiri further said the interest of Malawians can only be captured if the rule of law applies to all candidates, emphasising that no candidate can serve the interests of Malawians minus the rule of law.

However, when asked on their reactions, UTM Party and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) separately said they would make their positions known soon.

UTM Party spokesperson  Joseph Chidanti Malunga said they would communicate on their position while MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka said the party will be holding a press briefing on the matter soon.

UTM Party president Saulos Chilima and his MCP counterpart Lazarus Chakwera sought nullification of the presidential election results owing to irregularities, which marred the May 21 presidential election results management system. On February 3 this year, the court then nullified the presidential election results and ordered MEC to conduct a fresh poll within 150 days.

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