Law Society rebukes parties, CSOs

The Malawi Law Society (MLS) has warned political parties and leaders, including President Peter Mutharika, to prepare their followers for the outcome of the elections petition case which may go either way.

In a letter dated July 12 2019 under the subject Management of Electoral Complaints and Determination of Electoral Complaints and Determination of Electoral Results Concerning Presidential Elections 2019 addressed to politicians, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), among others, the lawyers’ body has also asked embattled MEC chairperson Jane Ansah to “deeply reflect on the value of remaining in office” when her stay seems to be a cause for social disruption and political unrest.

Mutharika addressing DPP supporters at Sanjika Palace after their victory parade

Further, the letter, which has HRDC leaders Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence among the eight addressees, challenges the activists demanding Ansah’s resignation to “deeply reflect on the value of such demonstrations” while the substance of the subject matter remains a legal dispute being managed through the courts.

In an interview last evening, MLS honorary secretary Martha Etta Kaukonde confirmed that the letter was delivered on Wednesday morning to all the addresses, including Mutharika, in his capacity as Head of State and president of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

She said MLS would be waiting for their responses to this letter, which we have seen.

The letter is also addressed to Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera, UTM Party president Saulos Chilima, Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani-Hara and Inspector General (IG) of Police Rodney Jose.

It cites some sections of the Constitution to back its position and urges the IG to dutifully discharge his duty to protect the rights of persons to ensure that during any planned demonstrations, public safety and rights of other persons are protected.

To the politicians, MLS said it has observed that since the announcement of the May 21 Tripartite Elections results, the political leaders of DPP, UTM and MCP have arranged public rallies.

Reads the letter in part: “The society observes that such rallies have either turned out to be used as opportunities to question the outcome of the presidential elections or a means of reminding the public about political party manifestos in the way this is done during the campaign period or indeed to attack one another for perceived electoral misconduct or triumph.

“Publicly available newspaper articles and online publications disclosing the position taken by either Prof. Peter Mutharika or Dr Saulos Klaus Chilima [UTM] or Dr. Lazarus Chakwera [MCP] at such political podiums concerning the Presidential elections 2019 or its management are common place.”

In this vein, MLS reminds the political leaders that the campaign period provided for in Section 56-57 of Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act (PPEA) is 60 days before the opening of the polling.

“The Law Society observes further that should the court nullify an electoral result and recall an election, the law in Section 100 and 114 PPEA provides that such recalled election will be conducted in accordance with the Act.

“This means that the campaign rights due to electoral political competitors will have to be observed.

“Read as whole, the law expects that after an election, the nation will quickly get down to serious State business and focus on meeting the aspirations of the people of Malawi as set out in Section 13 of the Constitution except that if there is a dispute concerning the election the courts will be managing it in terms of Section 100 or 114 of the PPEA and other relevant laws,” the letter reads.

MLS notes that while political parties have a right to assemble and disseminate information and indeed to raise governance issues with any public offices, it considers it the duty and responsibility of political leaders not to undermine the credibility of the legal processes engaged by them to address the presidential election disputes.

“Instead, we consider it the responsibility of the political leaders to use such opportunities to warn their members of the possibility of either outcome at the court, and the need to manage either outcome in accordance with the constitutional duty…

“We, therefore, urge you the political leaders and indeed any member of any grouping to desist from the temptation to assume the role of an arbiter in the electoral dispute placed before the court,” reads the letter.

The lawyers’ body has also expressed concern that it has not heard any reason why Malawi Police cannot provide adequate public safety and protection during demonstrations.

Turning to the organisers of the demonstrations, the lawyers have requested them and their supporters to deeply reflect on such demonstrations, especially when on two occasions they have led to destruction of property in circumstances which the nation is yet to get full information.

They argue that the constitutional right to demonstrate guaranteed in Section 38 of the Constitution is inherently connected to such demonstrations being peaceful.

In respect of DPP, MLS asks Mutharika to consider whether organising any form of counter-demonstration and victory rallies does not fuel the differences especially when the matter remains in court with a possibility of either outcome.

The addressees were not readily available as we went to bed.

A five-judge panel of the High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court is on July 29 set to start hearing a petition filed by Chilima and Chakwera seeking nullification of the presidential election results over alleged irregularities, especially in the result management system.

HRDC continues to organise a series of protests to force Ansah, and her commissioners to resign for presiding over a flawed election. 

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