Suleman testimony cut short amid tension

Tension in the courtroom forced the Constitutional Court in Lilongwe yesterday to adjourn proceedings to today, cutting short the testimony of IT expert Daud Suleman, witness for second petitioner and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera.

The adjournment followed a 10-minute break to allow Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), the second respondent, to transfer data out of its system for Suleman to upload new data.

However, during the break, lawyers representing first petitioner and UTM Party president Saulos Chilima, Chakwera, first respondent President Peter Mutharika and MEC as well as information technology (IT) experts vanished into the judges’ chamber where they tussled in camera.

Suleman (C) and others walk into court yesterday

Upon their return, after a lengthy period, Judge Healey Potani, a member of the five-judge panel of the High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court, announced that the parties had resolved the issues and that the proceedings were adjourned to this morning.

However, despite the announcement, tension filled the courtroom as lawyers from both sides were seen locked in disagreements on the interpretations of the chamber ruling.

MCP IT experts were ordered to submit data to MEC officials for inspection, according to both Chakwera lawyer Modecai Msisha and Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale representing MEC.

But the two differed on whether the court meant that MCP IT team should submit the data immediately or at any point, including the next day.

Said Msisha: “Our witness would like to have the installer application of the system MEC used to make sure that it’s the same type that is being used so that the servers perform exactly as it was supposed to.

“The court has also asked us to supply the data which MEC has to cross-check is the same which they earlier supplied.”

Kaphale, on the other hand, said the court was clear that MCP should submit the data. He alleged that the MCP team was not complying with the decision. 

Through his simulation, Suleman is expected to demonstrate how the MEC servers and system were compromised to manipulate election results purportedly in favour of Mutharika against the will of the voters.

After two days of waiting coupled with failure of virtual private network (VPN) connectivity, Suleman yesterday took to the witness stand to deliver evidence on how the May 21Tripartite Elections were digitally manipulated.

Yesterday’s proceedings were scheduled to start at 10am, but like the previous day, technological glitches meant the judges and the jam-packed court—including Chilima and Chakwera who are seeking nullification of the presidential election results over alleged irregularities—enduring hours of waiting.

When Suleman finally took to the witness stand, he immediately realised his planned two-staged demonstration of how hackers allegedly manipulated the elections was not going to be smooth sailing.

Kaphale supported by lawyer Frank Mbeta representing Mutharika raised one objection after another to the discomfort of opposition sympathisers in the public gallery.

The people’s reactions did not amuse the judges who warned that they would throw them out.

The court overruled most of Kaphale’s objections and allowed Suleman to proceed.

When Suleman completed his introductory presentation on how computerised systems function, he moved to his main presentation on making a simulation on how the results were possibly altered digitally.

The witness had a hypothesis to demonstrate that the election system was compromised. To do so, he asked MEC officials to transfer all the election data in the precise system used during the elections.

Suleman told the court that if he entered a new file of the exact data MCP officials received from MEC on the results of the elections, the computers would show different results from what MEC announced.

But as the witness sought clearance to proceed, Kaphale protested that MEC was taken unawares by the move, saying the witness had notified MEC that he would need to transfer his own data into the MEC system.

The judges queried Suleman the source of his evidence to which Suleman and lawyer Pempho Likongwe responded that MEC had provided the data—not only to MCP—but to all other parties.

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