The Public Affairs Committee (PAC) says it wants to meet Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah as it continues with its dialogue efforts to resolve the ongoing political impasse following the disputed May 21 presidential election.
PAC’s dialogue and mediation activity report we have seen, which has been submitted to the quasi-religious body’s governors’ board, states that having met President Peter Mutharika, UTM Party and Malawi Congress Party (MCP), it now wants to meet Ansah before taking feedback from all parties involved in the dialogue to President Peter Mutharika.
Reads the report in part: “PAC secretariat is working on securing an audience with MEC chairperson to hear her views following recommendations from the [other] stakeholders already engaged.
“Once this is achieved, PAC mediators will go back to the Head of State to concretise some points discussed on August 2 2019 and share feedback from HRDC, UTM, MCP and the MEC chairperson.”
PAC executive director Robert Phiri in a written response on Sunday said the body has made progress in securing commitment from stakeholders to the matter which has also culminated into a presidential election court case currently being heard at the Constitutional Court in Lilongwe.
He said: “Mediators met on August 27 2019 to adopt the report which has since been submitted to the board. The team further restrategised the next round of talks following feedback from parties. They also considered the need for inclusive dialogue where need arises in a bid to deal with all underlying issues.”
Phiri said PAC had previously failed to meet Ansah—whom HRDC wants to resign for allegedly presiding over a flawed electoral process—because she was out of the country.
But MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said in a written response on Sunday that the electoral body is not aware of any efforts by PAC to engage Ansah.
He said: “I have not seen any communication and I am not aware if PAC contacted her for a dialogue meeting.”
However, a source who spoke on condition of anonymity indicated that a meeting with PAC dialogue team, which was scheduled for last week, was cancelled at the eleventh hour after Ansah’s schedule could not allow her to attend.
“The MEC chair indicated she was engaged throughout the whole of the week beginning August 26, which is the week that the PAC dialogue team had proposed to meet her. But she was receptive of the idea and sought clarity on the agenda on the meeting,” said the source.
The PAC dialogue team, led by Archbishop Thomas Luke Msusa of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Blantyre, already engaged President Peter Mutharika, MCP president Lazarus Chakwera, UTM Party leader Saulos Chilima and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leaders in separate meetings.
Other members of the PAC dialogue team include Sheikh Ali Kennedy from the Muslim Association of Malawi, Pastor Towera Masiku of the Evangelical Association of Malawi, Sheikh Amir Jafaar Kawinga from the Quadria Musliam Association, Malawi Council of Churches’ Bishop Gilford Matonga and Phiri himself.
PAC did not disclose the outcome of its engagement with the political stakeholders, saying it had agreed with the parties to keep a tight lid on the details of the negotiations.
HRDC has been organising demonstrations to force Ansah to resign from her post as MEC chair. The protests have been supported by both MCP and UTM Party.
But in a response on Sunday, Chilima said his availability for the roundtable meeting will depend on the fulfilment of some pre-conditions that he would not divulge.
Said the UTM Party president: “There were discussions and we gave PAC some conditions. If these are met, we will be there.”
But Chakwera did not commit himself to the roundtable meeting when interviewed on Sunday.
“We have not been given feedback [by PAC] as agreed. When they do, then we shall give our position,” he said.
However, HRDC vice-chairperson Gift Trapence in a telephone interview said the group was ready to attend the meeting if all matters were put in the right context.
He said: “HRDC has always been open to engaging various stakeholders in order to reach an amicable solution to problems facing this country. We maintain this stand as long as the agenda is clear and not manipulative. We want to ensure that any discussions that we engage in should be in the best interest of Malawians.”
Meanwhile, Chancellor College-based political commentator Gift Sambo said the PAC initiative was not only viable but also critical to ensuring a realistic settlement of the political impasse.
“In my view, the direction PAC has taken is right, although there seems to be some resistance from some players. For a long time, the country’s political disputes have been solved by the courts. There is a huge element of mistrust between political players. But what the country needs now is a political solution because the court decisions only trigger more reactions,” he said.
Apart from the PAC-led dialogue, another parallel dialogue platform initiated by former president Bakili Muluzi is also being implemented with a more or less similar approach.