Three more members of Parliament (MPs) have lost their seats following successful petitions by losing candidates in the May 21 2019 Parliamentary Elections for nullification and orders for fresh election over electoral irregularities.
Delivering his judgement in Blantyre on Thursday, High Court of Malawi Judge Sylvester Kalembera nullified parliamentary election results in Chikwawa East, Nsanje North and Nsanje Central constituencies and ordered Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to hold reruns within 60 days.
MEC had declared Francis Kasaila of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) winner in Nsanje Central Constituency, Esther Mcheka Chilenje (DPP) winner in Nsanje North Constituency and Sam Khumbanyiwa of United Democratic Front (UDF) as the winner in Chikwawa East Constituency.
But Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidates Foster Thipiwa (Chikwawa East), Enock Chizuzu (Nsanje North) and Kafandikhale Mandevana (Nsanje Central) challenged the declaration on the basis that the conduct of the elections was marred by several irregularities.
In his ruling, Kalembera said he was satisfied that the three MCP candidates demonstrated, established and proved to the required standard that due to the observed irregularities, the results were affected such that the outcome did not reflect the will of the people.
The judge noted that in some cases results sheets were altered using correction fluid known as Tipp-Ex whereas in other cases, results were transmitted without signatures of presiding officers as per the evidence that was brought before the court.
Said the judge: “In addition, figures on the results sheets coming from polling stations were being changed by the respondents’ officers unilaterally without consultations or verification by the petitioners’ monitors and even monitors of the other candidates.”
In the 36-page ruling, Kalembera also said the use of correctional fluid created a perception that such alterations were intended to favour the said DPP candidates.
The judge said: “I am satisfied and it is the finding of this court that the petitioners have established and proved existence of irregularities and improprieties committed by the first respondent [MEC] officers through non-compliance and generally committed contraventions and violations of the electoral process.”
Outside the court, a handful of MCP supporters and the petitioners broke into dance after their lawyers updated them on the judgement.
In an interview, one of the lawyers representing the petitioners, Wester Kossam, said he was happy that the court ruled in their favour.
“It has been a long journey but then we expected this to happen because we had all the evidence,” he said.
But lawyer representing MEC, Dalitso Mattaka, said he would not comment as he was yet to read the whole ruling and advise his clients on the way forward.
Lawyers representing Khumbanyiwa, Kasaila and Mcheka Chilenje were also not readily available to comment on the ruling.
In the disputed elections, DPP won 62 seats in the 193-seat National Assembly with UDF getting only 10. The ruling now leaves UDF with nine MPs and DPP with 58 after Lilongwe Msinja North MP Bintony Kutsaira also resigned from the party to become an independent legislator.
DPP spokesperson Brown Mpinganjira asked for more time before commenting while UDF secretary general Kandi Padambo expressed sadness over the ruling, saying: “We are not happy as a party because our candidate has been disqualified. But as a party we follow the rule of law, so we will respect the court ruling.”
Reacting to the ruling, in a telephone interview, University of Malawi Chancellor College based political analyst Mustapha Hussein said the outcome underlines the need for upholding the rule of law in the context of electoral administration.
He said: “All stakeholders involved in an election should follow the rule of law. Otherwise, if evidence is there, then the consequences will be the nullification of results which will be a loss.”
On her part, a legal scholar at the same institution, Bernadette Malunga, said the decision was expected in view of the constitutional court and supreme court ruling in the presidential elections case.
“The issues before the court were similar to the ones in the presidential election case. A decision to the contrary would have been a surprise.
“That said, it is clear that MEC mismanaged the last elections, the law was not followed, there were massive irregularities and proper procedures were not followed and the court had no other option but to nullify the results.”
On June 22 last year, High Court Judge Rowland Mbvundula nullified parliamentary results for Phalombe North Constituency while on June 8 last year High Court Judge Joseph Chigona also declared Mangochi North East parliamentary results invalid.
In December 2019, Kalembera also nullified Mangochi West parliamentary results that declared DPP’s Geoffrey Chiwondo winner in the election against independent candidate Simeon Harrison, who challenged the results.
In the aftermath of the elections, 44 electoral petitions were filled at the four court registries of Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu, according to records from the Judiciary.