The Constitutional Court on Friday ruled against an application by President Peter Mutharika and the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to quash the referral case by Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera and UTM Party leader Saulos Chilima who are disputing the May 21 presidential poll results.
A panel of five judges made the ruling last night after a turbulent day when the country’s post-election political crisis deepened both in and outside Parliament. At Parliament, MCP lawmakers set the tone by disrupting President Peter Mutharika who was delivering his State of the Nation Address (Sona), while in the streets there were running battles between the police and protesters degenerating into looting of shops, forcing the military to come to the rescue and maintain law and order.
But before soldiers came on the scene, police fired tear gas canisters to disperse looters in a desperate attempt to maintain a grip on a deteriorating security situation as youths wantonly stoned vehicles and the police, barricaded roads with tree branches and burnt tyres.
All this was happening as the capital city and the rest of the country waited with bated breath for the High Court to deliver its ruling. Both MCP and UTM presidents Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima respectively followed the proceedings at the court.
As the situation got out of hand, police officers manning the entrance of the court fled the scene. At this point Chilima, the country’s immediate former vice-president, who was taking a breather outside the court, was quickly whisked inside.
The military’s intervention—five armoured vehicles—was welcomed with wild celebrations by the crowd who seemed to be enjoying the proceedings.
Then came the ruling—that the court had dismissed MEC’s and Mutharika’s request to quash Chakwera and Chilima’s application. The news sent the crowd into more frenzied celebration.
“The applications to have our cases dismissed have been dismissed, so we have won the case,” said Chilima in his briefing of journalists and supporters.
On his part, Chakwera hailed the ruling describing it as a sign that justice will prevail.
“We are very happy that the judges have demonstrated that they can deliver the justice people are aspiring for; this is a very clear message,” he said.
One of MCP’s lead lawyers, senior counsel Mordecai Msisha said the ruling focused on the application by DPP to dismiss the case and that the judges had ruled that the courts should hear the case.
“There were applications to dismiss the petitions on the grounds that they were defective and those have been dismissed,” he said.
Msisha further said DPP’s lawyers had immediately raised an application to appeal the ruling but the court said it will hear the grounds for the application while proceeding to set aside hearing for the case on June 26 2019.
“They can go on and appeal at the Supreme Court, we will meet there. The issue of the venue was raised. They will look at the alternatives, this one has limitations. They will look at crowd control issues but in my view, crowd control can be a problem anywhere,” he said.
Both MCP and UTM claim the May 21 Presidential Elections were rigged in favour of
Mutharika who was declared winner with 38 percent of the votes trailed by Chakwera with 35 percent and Chilima with 20 percent.
The five judges hearing the matter are Healey Potani, Mike Tembo, Dingiswayo Madise, Ivy Kamanga and Redson Kapindu.