14 MAY 2020
Malawi has had people at the helm of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). We have seen justices Anastazia Msosa, William Hanjahanja, James Kalaile, Mackson Mbendera and the current chairperson, Jane Ansah.
Simply put, this has proven to be a post that deserves someone made of sterner stuff. Leading MEC to hold free and fair elections is no simple matter. It demands not only incorrigible and incorruptible minds, but also high integrity solely because MEC is a constitutional body, which is highly dependent on trust.
Msosa has been highly regarded in the position. She oversaw a commission that run the Referendum on June 14 1993 and consequently the May 17 1994 elections. This was many years since Malawi held elections at national level. Msosa, who is also Malawi’s first female Chief Justice also served as MEC chairperson between 2004 and 2012.
Her tenure at MEC left an indelible mark, clearly demonstrated in the confidence Malawians had in her that she had to run two elections.
Mbendera will grossly be remembered for the time he was announcing Peter Mutharika as winner of the 2014 elections. He explained that he shed tears because of the death of a boy in Mangochi in electoral violence, but others propelled a thought that that may have been the result of a botched poll.
My mind, of late, has been on Hanjahanja, the only MEC chair to have ever resigned from the position. Hanjahanja, may his soul rest in peace, resigned from the position in March 1999, a week or so before that year’s general election.
I remember Hanjahanja since it is apparent that the current chair, Ansah, is nowhere near resigning. Demonstrations organised by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) against her tenure yielded no results as some contestants at the May 21 2019 challenged the results she endorsed.
My Lady has insisted her conscience is clear and that she run the polls justly and fairly. Even when the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) ruled that the polls were marred by a plethora of irregularities. She said she could only resign if the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled against their challenging the lower court ruling.
But when the Supreme Court upheld the ConCourt ruling, Ansah and her fellow commissioners were nowhere near throwing in the towel.
She still holds the position, in spite of all the calls for her to pave way for the fresh presidential elections.
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.
Hanjahanja’s stay at MEC was one bundle of contradictions. Not without cause, the then Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Alliance for Democracy (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. Hanjahanja was mired in so many controversial decisions. These included redemarcation of constituencies, accreditation of non-governmental organisations, registration and voting of foreigners and a host of other anomalies.
The last straw was the issue of running mate when MCP candidate Gwanda Chakuamba wanted to field Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana as a running mate. The commission under Hanjahanja argued that people from two different parties cannot run together. That upset the courts.
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 have resonated for Ansah’s head. She is only on the position because the appointing authority, the President Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM) has refused to fire her and the other commissioners as requested by the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament.
Ansah appears not to be ready to be part of the solution to the quandary we are in due to the mismanagement of last year’s election. With two courts conceding the elections were botched, Ansah should have been the first to lead to the exit door.
Imagine, already there have been confusion in the voter roll. And now, this week, she brought controversy when she proposed that Parliament should set a new date for the elections, while at the same time proposing June 23 as the new date for the polls.
One can only wish she spared us all this confusion by doing the needful: packing up.