‘May 21 polls irregular’

The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has slated May 20 as the day for the national demonstrations to call for the resignation of Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Jane Ansah and the nullification of the May 21 Tripartite Elections. JOSEPH MWALE caught up with the coalition’s chairperson TIMOTHY MTAMBO. Excerpts:

Mtambo: MEC response is misleading

Why has HRDC decided to hold protests over the elections outcome?

We are taking to the streets to demand two things; the resignation of Justice Jane Ansah SC as chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and the dissolution of the commissioners. The May 21 elections were conducted in an unprofessional manner. The elections were marred by a lot of inexcusable irregularities. We refuse to be party to an election that robbed the citizenry of their will. We believe that the MEC under the leadership of Jane Ansah failed to deliver a credible election to Malawians.

Evidence establishes that MEC’s presiding officers were behind the tippexing of results and many other irregularities. We do not hate anyone, we are just standing on principles. We have had elections before in this country but this is the first time that citizens are calling the MEC chair to resign. It does not mean the previous chairpersons for MEC were perfect, for instance in 2014, during Justice Mbendera’s time, we had irregularities but it was his MEC which recommended for a recount, this was done in good will to ensure that irregularities were properly addressed but this time around MEC’s actions were strange.

We are demanding accountability from MEC which has allowed itself to play partisan politics. We suggest that a special committee should be set-up to come up with a team of commissioners that will be acceptable to all stakeholders and be able to deliver a credible election. The worst problem we have is in our laws, how can you give one of the players of the game to have powers of deciding who becomes the referee of the same game in which he will be competing in. Can you expect fair competition? For long term we will need to change the law, the president should never appoint the chairperson of the Electoral commission.

What main issues have you raised that you feel have not been handled well by MEC, hence the protests?

We at HRDC have four main issues that despite being raised have not been fully addressed by MEC. Firstly, MEC is yet to furnish Malawians with a comprehensive report on how each of the 147 complaints that they received were handled to the satisfaction of all relevant stakeholders. During the run-up to the presidential elections results announcement, we asked MEC to address all these issues before announcing the results but our demand was shamelessly ignored. The process of addressing irregularities has not been transparent as to how they addressed each and every complaint they received.

Secondly, Malawians want to appreciate the motivation that prompted MEC presiding and returning officer to use Tippex to fix elections results. MEC conceded that it did not supply Tippex nor that its use is an accepted operating procedure standard in rectifying an error in recording of results. We also want answers on why some MEC officers went home with elections results sheets and why elections results were being transported to MEC warehouse without security detail escort.    

Thirdly we are also questioning the credibility of the MEC chairperson as her post elections conduct largely suggests that she sympathizes with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), if her photos making rounds on the social media are anything to go by. As citizens, we have lost confidence in her. This is a chairperson, who, just hours after delivering a dubious presidential result, was seen taking selfies with DPP officials. 

And beyond that, this is a chairperson who did everything in her power to frustrate justice when she went to court to remove the court injunction that the opposition had obtained. As HRDC, we are at pains to understand why she rushed to the court to lift the injunction in the first place. That is a suspicious move because that injunction would have given MEC sufficient time to address the concerns people had raised. Her behaviour has made us to believe that she did not act in good faith, and in the best interests of Malawians, and therefore she must resign. We should have expected to see the uplifting of the injunction after the eight day period was over, that should have made sense but we still had some days.

What has been your engagement with MEC on this matter? Any outcomes?

We have given other engagement strategies a chance and have miserably but not surprisingly failed. We issued a press statement calling on MEC to hold on the announcement of the presidential results to give room to dispute resolutions. Then we wrote MEC a letter after we had exhausted all avenues. In this letter, we highlighted that we had lost trust in the leadership of MEC and asked Chairperson to honourably resign. MEC responded through its communications’ officer, defiantly stating that the chair would not resign because we are not the ones who employed her.

We understand our constitution rights including Section 12 of our constitution that provides that the social contract between the citizens and those that govern. The response from MEC is misleading because it suggests that citizens should never hold duty bearers accountable, which sends a very dangerous message that public leaders are bosses and all citizens are servants.

What would you want to achieve through the protests?

We want electoral justice!  We want the will of the people to be protected. It is clear, as highlighted before that the will of the people has been distorted to suit certain interests. Those responsible for this malpractice should be held accountable. We want Justice Jane Ansah to go and the entire MEC to be dissolved. We want a new MEC appointed in a manner that will be accepted by all stakeholders. We want justice to prevail in these elections.

There have been many protests before, but leaders have not been taking heed of the petitions. How will you ensure compliance with time.

It is unfortunate that in this country we have leaders who are arrogant, leaders who are not principled, and that is why they do not listen. But citizens should know that the future of this country is in their hands. If we do not stand up and challenge such behaviour, our country will continue to struggle.

We believe it is time Malawians appreciated those that are demanding accountability and denounce in strongest terms those who are not honouring the call to accountability. If anything, we have to blame those who are failing to change and collectively as citizens we have to join hands and fight the malpractices. Time for docility is over. This country belongs to us all, and not to a privileged few.

Our interest is not in who won but how they won. We say no to rigging. We say no to electoral manipulation. We say no to electoral theft. We know that there is no single path to justice. Let the courts do their part, we respect them and we know our judges are capable of delivering justice. But we also know that as citizens we must do our part. We will keep fighting for a better Malawi, we will never get tired.

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