Litmus test for MEC

Two political parties challenging the May 21 presidential election results, Malawi Congress Party and UTM Party, have urged MEC to consider not holding a by-election in Lilongwe South Constituency until the presidential results case is concluded.

Through a press statement released yesterday, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) informed electoral stakeholders of its intention to hold a by-election in Lilongwe South Constituency on November 5 2019.

An elderly man casts her vote on May 21 2019

In the statement signed by MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika, MEC indicated that in preparation for the by-election, the commission will hold a stakeholders’ meeting on October 3 2019 in the constituency where it will provide information about the electoral process and release the electoral calendar.

“Please note that the commission had initially planned to conduct a by-election in this constituency on July 9 2019. However, this was put on hold due to lack of funding,” reads the press release.

Mkaka: We are very uncomfortable

Parliamentary elections in Lilongwe South did not take place during the May 21 Tripartite Elections following the death of one of the candidates Agnes Penemulungu, who was representing UTM Party.

The Constitution reads in part: “Any by-election to fill a vacancy that occurs shall be held within 60 days after the seat of the member becomes vacant or, if in the opinion of the Speaker the circumstances do not admit, then as expeditiously as possible after the expiry of that period.”

But MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka in an interview described the situation as interesting, saying while MEC was constitutionally mandated to hold the by-election within 60 days of vacancy, at the moment MEC’s integrity was being challenged in court.

He said the 2019 elections dented MEC’s image and that, to him, MEC holding by-elections at the moment was only a way of trying to validate itself.

“We are very uncomfortable for MEC to handle any election now. This is the commission whose reputation is hanging by the thread. Until the court proceedings are over, MEC should consider not holding any election,” said Mkaka.

He said MCP will take advantage of the proposed stakeholders’ meeting to voice out its concerns.

UTM Party publicity secretary Joseph Chidanti Malunga also expressed reservations that MEC commissioners, whose integrity was being questioned, should preside over another election.

“We think it is ill-timed. This is not the correct period to conduct elections, considering that the institution to do so is under question,” he said.

But Chidanti Malunga said it would be interesting to see how the law, which mandates MEC to hold a by-election within a specified time, will be harmonised with what is happening in court.

“Trust is lost, I don’t think people would believe the current commissioners,” he said, adding that UTM will wait to hear from the stakeholders, especially the people of Lilongwe South Constituency to take further action.

But Democratic Progressive Party spokesperson Nicholas Dausi told The Nation that MEC has a constitutional mandate to hold the by-election and that so far there have not been anything that proves that MEC did something wrong to warrant the questioning of its integrity.

“MEC has to do its job according to its mandate as stated on Section 76 of the Constitution. MEC should not be stopped to operate because of hatred and anger. Malawians should attentively listen to the court proceedings,” he said.

Commenting on the issue, Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) chairperson Steve Duwa told The Nation in a telephone interview that MEC was within its legal mandate to hold the by-election in the constituency.

“The people of Lilongwe South Constituency are being denied the right to be presented in Parliament,” he said.

On whether MEC would be trusted to hold the by-election when some quarters are questioning its integrity, Duwa said: “One is presumed innocent until otherwise.”

Speaking in his personal capacity, Duwa said there was a need to consider the people of Lilongwe South and that MEC should proceed with holding the election, saying despite the case being in court, MEC has not stopped operating in the country. MCP and UTM are challenging the May 21 presidential election results, citing irregularities that include the use of ‘tippex’ to correct some data on electoral documents.

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