MCP, UTM stoke rage

The opposition has resorted to stoking popular anger against Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah and other commissioners who the court declared incompetent to manage an election, but are proceeding to do just that.

With the Ansah-led commission releasing a calendar showing that the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) ordered fresh presidential election will be held on July 2 2020, enraged alliance partners MCP and UTM Party on Tuesday said they have organised ‘The Day of Rage’ protests this Friday and will return to the courts for help once again.

Malawi Congress Party and UTM hope that going to two courts—that of public opinion and the court of law—could exert enough pressure for the adamant group of commissioners to go; or at least force a combative President Peter Mutharika’s hand.

But if multiple demonstrations over the past year demanding the departure of Ansah from the commission failed to move both her and Mutharika, time can only tell if asking Malawians to keep surly faces for a day could make a difference.

Yet, that is exactly what MCP and UTM are asking Malawians to do this Friday.

“We have christened 27th March, 2020 The Day of Rage. Since we cannot hold street protests due to the threat of the Covid-19 virus, we are calling on all our supporters to stay away from work on Friday. Just for one day, we must remind Prof Mutharika and Justice Ansah that we are tired of them taking us for granted. They do not have power. Power is with the people of Malawi. And the people of Malawi want Electoral Commissioners they can trust. Let us show our rage on Friday, 27th March, 2020,” said a joint statement from the two partners in the upcoming fresh presidential poll.

Apart from the rage strategy, the two parties also said they have instructed their lawyers to commence a constitutional challenge to the continued presence of Justice Ansah and the current commissioners in MEC.

“We shall be asking the Constitutional Court to determine whether it is lawful for Justice Ansah to continue holding her position when the court and Parliament have clearly stated that she is incompetent,” they said.

Professor of law at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, Garton Kamchedzera, said the opposition political parties are free to 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.”

Since State House announced last week that Mutharika would not fire the MEC commissioners and refused to assent to election-related bills that would have facilitated the holding of fresh presidential polls on May 19, the opposition has struggled for a week to design a response.

Even when Ansah asserted and inserted herself at the heart of the fresh presidential poll execution, MCP and UTM were unclear of how to react.

And when they finally did, the frustration and rage with a seemingly calculating and sleeve-rolling Mutharika was on display at a joint MCP-UTM press conference in Lilongwe on Tuesday.

Both UTM’s Chidanti Malunga and MCP’s Ezekiel Ching’oma accused the President and his party of coming up with tricks aimed at forcing them to boycott the forthcoming fresh presidential election, but vowed to contest.

“I just want to put it on record that as an alliance we are going to participate in these elections, we will not boycott any process, all we want is for Jane Ansah and her fellow commissioners to step down because they were deemed incompetent by the court and Parliamentary Public Appointments Committee,” said Malunga.

The parties’ joint statement was also blunt.

“Fellow Malawians,” implored the alliance statement, “if you ever doubted Prof Mutharika’s resolve to remain in power by hook or crook, through legal or illegal means, his recent actions must have erased any such doubt. His order for the arrest of the leaders of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition is one example. His clandestine meetings with shady characters from the Middle East, is another.

“His arrogant refusal to fire Justice Jane Ansah and her fellow commissioners whose performance was found wanting by two organs of the State, the Constitutional Court and the National Assembly, is yet another example.

“His inexplicable refusal to assent to Bills passed by the National Assembly, paving the way for fresh elections; is also another example. His unlawful attempt to extend tribal influence to the solemn task of State defence is another sad and tragic example of this beleaguered President’s attempt to lord over us irrespective of what the law stipulates.”

So far, the President has moved to consolidate his power, firing top commanders of the Malawi Defence Force and replacing them with Army brass that critics charge are Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party loyalists. The President has also tinkered with influential positions in the Malawi Police Service, shaken up and expanded his Cabinet and jiggled powerful positions in the ruling party in moves analysts say are aimed at sending a message that he was in charge.

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