MLS fills leadership void with poignant statement

On Wednesday this week, the Malawi Law Society (MLS) released what I consider to be the most consequential statement since it was established. It is also the most important statement any leader, group or organisation has made since the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) announced results of the Tripartite Elections and the fallout emanating from the declarations, especially that President Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), had won the presidential contest.

Malawi Congress Party’s (MCP) Lazarus Chakwera disputed the results immediately while UTM Party candidate Saulos Chilima appeared to have accepted defeat at first, but changed his mind and started to reject the results and later partnered MCP to challenge the presidential outcome in court; thereby putting MEC on the defensive amid allegations that some elements in the Commission facilitated the ‘tippexing’ of election results sheets that, according to challengers, have all the hallmarks of vote rigging.

Since the buck always stops with the leader of the organisation, some sections of society—the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC)—have been calling for the resignation of MEC chairperson Jane Ansah using national protests that have caused extensive looting and damage to property and injured some people.

The leading opposing parties—MCP and UTM—have supported these anti-Ansah demonstrations and in some cases both Chakwera and Chilima have actively participated.

But Ansah, a Justice of the Supreme Court—has doubled down and refuses to quit certainly not, she told privately-owned Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), unless the court makes a decision on the dispute.

On the other hand, the ruling DPP has also been carrying out what I would call counter demonstrations in support of their presidential win and subtly backing Ansah. Harsh words among the top three political parties—DPP, MCP and UTM—have been exchanged with none of the party’s leaders rising above the fray to take a step back and soberly look at what is at stake.

The civil society appears to have taken sides and would certainly not be honest brokers to any pathway that can help to build a constructive narrative for the country. That is, until the Malawi Law Society saw the leadership void and came in to map out a pathway for the country which, according to my reading between the lines, amounts to one message: Let us stop agitations that are leading to unnecessary violence and allow the courts to make a determination before taking any steps that can only succeed in throwing this country into chaos.

It is not like no one has pushed such a message before. Several have. But none of the messengers have had the credibility that MLS has built, especially in this matter.

The statement itself is so balanced that you could literally see its framers painfully tiptoeing around the political edges. But that is what the Society has tried to do all along.

Just before and after the elections, the Society has quietly provided unbiased counsel to the electoral process and is offering the same neutral advice to the Judiciary as friends of the court in the presidential election dispute. It is as if there is a group of wise men and women that is sitting around a fire and trying to guide the country in its hour of need.

I have a few quotations from the statement that resonated with me and I share them here:

“On the other hand, the Law Society, while fully recognising the right to demonstrate, calls upon the organisers and supporters of the anti-MEC Chairperson demonstrations 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 with a possibility of either outcome, at least in legal theory. No doubt, there is a right to demonstrate, but we request the organisers and supporters to deeply reflect on this, especially when on the two occasions so far such demonstrations have led to destruction of property in circumstances which the nation is yet to get full information on.”

Then there was this statement: “On the other hand, the Law Society calls upon the Electoral Commission Chairperson to further equally deeply reflect on the value of remaining in office while her stay in that office seems to be a cause for social disruption and political unrest.”

And I could not resist this: “Therefore, while the Law Society acknowledges the right of the political parties and their leaders or any other group of persons to assemble and disseminate information and indeed to raise governance issues with any public offices, we consider it the duty and responsibility of political leaders, in view of section 12(1) and (2) of the Constitution, to see to is that their sentiments at such gatherings do not undermine the credibility of the legal processes engaged to address the presidential election disputes currently at the only institution entrusted with the legal authority to review the outcome. 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 placed upon every Malawian to respect  fellow Malawians and the international community without discrimination and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance; and in recognition of the constitutional duty of  due regard for the rights of others, collective security, morality and common interest.”

Thank you MLS for filling the leadership gap and providing the country with a clear sense of direction because while every major political party and demonstration organiser are looking out for themselves, MLS is trying to look out for the Republic. Now that is an honourable task.

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