Remembering MEC chair Hanjahanja

July 11, 2019.

My mind, of late, has been  on one time William Hanjahanja, the only MEC chair this far to have resigned. Hanjahanja, may his soul rest in peace, resigned from the position in March 1999, a week or so before that year’s general election.

While calls for Jane Ansah’s resignation and others maintaining she must stay put continue to hit the headlines, it does no harm to look at Hanjahanja’s tenure and draw parallels to the situation now.

One can say at the onset that calls for Ansah’s head are far from being a gender thing. Seodi knows that. She knows too well that when she was fighting then President Joyce Banda, it wasn’t necessarily about JB’s being a woman. It was all about her style of leadership. Nothing to shed tears about.

Hanjahanja’s stay at MEC was one bundle of contradictions. Not without cause, the then Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Alliance for Demmocracy (Aford) alliance and other electoral stakeholders felt he was completely biased towards the United Democratic Front (UDF).

Unlike Ansah, whose dispute has come after the ballots were cast, Hanjahanja had it hot before the election.

First, Hanjahanja poked a hornets’ nest on the redemarcation of constituencies. His initial plan was to add 70 new constituencies to the 177. Parliamentarians shot down the proposal, since it was seen as a ploy to increase the UDF leverage in the polls.

Hanjahanja brought another proposal. To bring in 17 new constituencies. The proposal was to bring the number of constituencies in the North from 33 to 21; add six new constituencies in the Centre and add 11 in the South. Parliament shot that one down as well, agreeing that the number of constituencies in the North should remain at 33 and add five in the Centre and 11 in the South. Which is why today we have 193 MPs.

The MEC chair’s woes did not end at the redemarcation stage. When time to accredit NGOs in the electoral process came, MEC under Hanjahanja rejected the Civil Liberties Committee (Cilic), which was highly critical of the UDF regime. It had to take necessary pressure on Hanjahanja until he succumbed and allowed Cilic into the system.

Then, there were issues of the UDF ferrying people from Zambia and Tanzania to register and vote. Stakeholders went to town with Hanjahanja over the issue, but still, he did not succumb to the pressures to resign.

Even when the quasi-religious grouping, Public Affairs Committee (PAC), the donor community, the civil society and the opposition raised concerns about anomalies during the registration period, the MEC chair stayed put, refusing to give way. Even when ballot papers printed in the United Kingdom had gross errors, Hanjahanja stood his ground.

When stakeholders asked him to shift the polling day from May 25, the My Lord could not take it.

Four commissioners wrote him, accusing him of putting MEC into disrepute and acting ‘unilaterally’.

The last straw came when Hanjahanja said MCP’s Gwanda Chakuamba could not have Aford’s Chakufwa Chihana as a runningmate. That issue was resolved on the day of presentation of presidential nomination papers. The High Court ruled there was nothing wrong.

The pressure on Hanjahanja was so intense that a week or so before the polls, he was hospitalised. Doctors advised him to call it quits as MEC chair, for high blood pressure.

He resigned and Justice James Kalaile took over.

Now calls are on for Ansah’s head. Unlike Hanjahanja, those calling for Ansah’s head do so because they feel she handled the polls in a partisan manner. She has maintained the issue is in the courts and she can’t bow to pressure.

It may have been forgotten, but even before the polls were conducted, there were anomalies in the electoral process. Have we forgotten about the biometric registration kit that was found on a train somewhere in Mozambique? Have we forgotten all those voter documents in Lilongwe that was found heaped somewhere in Mangochi?

Ansah has failed to explain how she saw no mistake on how Tippex was used countrywide when MEC did not supply it. She has not explained how MEC allowed some presiding officers to take result sheets home and all the rub.

Resigning does not mean you are wrong. It is an honourable thing to do when some are questioning your integrity. When matters turn your way later, you smile all the way and stand on the ant-hill and say: “I always told you!”

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