Embattled Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah has stepped down from her position, further adding to the uncertainty in the run-up to the fresh presidential election whose date is not clear at the moment.
Her resignation comes after a series of protests by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) that at times turned ugly between June 2019 and January this year.
It has also come at a time Malawi is caught up in what a legal scholar has described as a constitutional crisis with so much to clear, including the processing of ballot papers and setting of election date with barely 42 days to the final countdown of the court ordered 150 days to hold the fresh presidential election.
In an interview monitored on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Television last evening, Ansah said: “I have written to the appointing authority that I am stepping aside because I respect the judgement of the Supreme Court, not the demonstrations.
“That’s why I stood through the dmonstrations. I have not yet received the response, but I believe he [the appointing authority] respects my decision.”
The term of office for Ansah—a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal—was set to expire in October this year while that for her eight commissioners is ending on June 5 this year
Prior to her resignation, Ansah last week said holding the election on July 2, the 149th day of the prescribed period, would go against the February 3 judgement of a five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court and upheld on May 8 by a seven-judge panel of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal.
To this end, she proposed June 23 as the appropriate date to hold the election and stay in the legal lane. The Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament is also for the June 23 date.
But, what will it take for the country to hold the fresh presidential election on June 23?
In an interview yesterday, Sunduzwayo Madise, dean of law at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, implored President Peter Mutharika and Parliament to avert the constitutional crisis by facilitating speedy enactment of the laws for the June 23 fresh presidential election.
He was reacting to yesterday’s meeting at Parliament Building in Lilongwe between Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, Ansah , MEC commissioners and Attorney General (AG) Kalakeni Kaphale
Madise observed that the compacted time-frame for the fresh election demands that the President allows Parliament to meet quickly to enact the enabling electoral laws.
He said Mutharika should sign the new Bills to reflect the new voting date and other related issues, including the way forward on the nine MEC commissioners—including their chairperson—in the face of court declarations of incompetence on the part of the commissioners.
Madise said: “Whether people like it or not, we are now in a constitutional crisis unless, for once, if people abandoned petty politics and put the interests of Malawi first.
“Our leaders should cooperate and move quickly to sort out the legal and political mess we are in. We don’t have the time, but we have no choice. Malawi is more important for us all.”
In an interview after the meeting yesterday, Legal Affairs Committee chairperson Kezzie Msukwa said their discussion with Ansah and Kaphale would be affirmed in another key meeting with stakeholders, including the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD), today.
He said: “We wanted to get from MEC their level of preparedness and also advice from the AG on the court ruling and dates regarding the new polls. We have told them to continue the preparations with the June 23 date in mind.”
Parliament will need to pass key electoral bills and Speaker Catherine Gotani Hara has sought permission from the President for the House to meet soon, initially to pass the 2020/21 National Budget. But Mutharika has yet to give that permission.
But Msukwa said he was optimistic that Parliament will meet soon to discuss the poll date and the possible way forward on a presidential run-off based on the 50-percent-plus-one majority to elect the next President.
“We are in a tense situation, so we should work first on setting the date of the election,” he said.
On his part, Kaphale told journalists that the meeting did not agree on anything and that he only advised that whatever date the committee sets, it should be in line with the next election being free, fair and credible and in line with international standards.
Ansah, on the other hand, avoided the media after the meeting, but she is said to have told the committee that the electoral body has a budget deficit of K8 billion.
She indicated that there seems no donor is willing to fund the poll, mainly because of their commitments to fighting the global coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
In March, Mutharika withheld assent to election-related bills that Parliament sent for his nod in February and also refused to fire MEC commissioners as recommended by Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (PAC).
Additional reporting by SAMUEL CHUNGA, Lilongwe Bureau Chief