- As SKC case shrinks to presidential
- Chilima also quizzed on nullification of elections
The Constitutional Court, sitting in Lilongwe yesterday, heard a glimpse of the evidence UTM presidential candidate Saulos Chilima has in the case, including audio recordings in which MEC officials are overheard discussing election irregularities.
Some of the evidence came to light as Frank Mbeta, one of the lawyers for first respondent President Peter Mutharika, in cross-examination, started asking Chilima about the recordings.
The court later shifted questioning on the recordings to Monday after Chilima’s legal team—through lawyer Chikosa Silungwe—acknowledged that some of the recordings and their narratives have been mixed up and needs to be realigned before Mbeta continues questioning.
But nonetheless, the court allowed Mbeta to play the three recordings.
The first recording was from a press conference Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Justice Jane Ansah held in Blantyre during the election result management process, when results had started streaming to the national tally centre.
In the recording, Ansah’s voice could be heard responding to journalists and making reference to the 147 complaints the commission had received in the aftermath of voting and counting.
In that recording, Ansah, who was not in the court yesterday and is yet to attend any of the election case hearings, was overheard sounding optimistic that political parties would accept the results, saying MEC had given parties chance to review complaints.
Ansah further defended slow process of announcing results to work on complaints, saying all complaints were not about presidential results. She was further overheard saying that MEC asked complainants to provide evidence, including result sheets for comparison during allegations that results were doctored.
In the second recording, MEC officials were addressing another press briefing in which the electoral body’s officials are overheard responding to questions to journalists about an incident in Mzimba, where there was an alleged discovery of pre-marked ballot papers.
In the audio, MEC chief executive officer (CEO) Sam Alfandika is heard confirming the alleged incident and explaining that police have arrested the perpetrator, a teacher at one of the polling centres. He is further heard saying criminal prosecution would follow.
The third and final recording focused on Mutharika’s rally in the aftermath of the elections, at which he is heard discussing the allegations of rigging in the elections.
At one instance, Mutharika tells the audience that a member of the opposition, had declared before the elections that there will be no rigging of the elections because “technology is his realm”.
Then Mutharika is overheard making a statement that his party, too, had its “votes stolen” in the central parts of the country.
But with Silungwe’s intervention, the court was not able to hear Mbeta’s line of questioning on the matter.
Earlier, Mbeta focused his cross-examination on Chilima’s wording of his petition to indicate the former vice-president was challenging the results of tripartite elections instead of just the presidential elections. Chilima admitted he brought the matter to court as a presidential candidate.
And asked if his petition seeking nullification of the tripartite elections was not properly structured, Chilima said such reasoning may be correct, but said it would be an issue for legal minds.
Chilima further admitted that when he spoke of presidential and parliamentary elections in his petition being marred by serious irregularities, he did not have serious issues to have the word parliamentary removed, but again said that would be the issue for legal minds.
Mbeta asked Chilima if he thought non-availability of Malawi Police Service (MPS) officers in some polling centres or the manner they were deployed, as per his complaint in court, might have affected the validity of votes, to which he said it did not.
Chilima admitted there was no evidence on record in court and that it was not to his knowledge that deployment of police officers affected the results.
He also conceded that deployment of security officers, Police and the Army, is for such security agents and that there was no sworn statement in court from such security officers.
On his claim that Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cadets were involved in dispatching already marked ballot papers, Chilima said there was no evidence of that on record in court or a copy of any ballot paper.
Chilima, who alleged that monitors were bribed, agreed with Mbeta that it did not matter at what point to pay party monitors as it was a contractual issue, adding it was not to his knowledge that there was any sworn statement from any monitor submitted in court to confirm the bribery claims.
The former vice-president, whose name from the polling centre in Lilongwe, where he was supposed to vote, missed, and brought the matter in this case as one of the anomalies, said in the cross-examination that he did not want to maintain that as an anomaly because he finally voted.
Chilima also complained to the court that some presiding officers were telling voters to vote for a particular candidate, but taking questions from Mbeta, he admitted that under electoral regulations, it is allowed for presiding officers to accompany persons with disabilities into the voting booth and cast their votes.
Tackling the issue of tally sheets, where the witness claimed the electoral body did not provide UTM with all the documents, Chilima admitted receiving a letter from MEC, dated May 28 2019, before results were announced, advising the party to cross-check with one of its electoral officers, Miriam Mzanda.
MEC had advised that Mzanda received about 100 percent of the results, and asked by Mbeta if Chilima checked with Mzanda, he said he did not.
Mbeta asked Chilima why, after writing a letter to MEC chairperson Jane Ansah—asking her to resign, and made it public later—he did not make Ansah’s response public, Chilima responded that that was his personal choice.
On claims by Chilima of unauthorised persons said to have been found in possession of ballot boxes and ballot papers, the former vice-president admitted that nowhere in the statements of Blessings Mwale, Mervin Makawa and Alexander Dumba was this confirmed.
The five-judge panel of Healey Potani, Mike Tembo, Dingiswayo Madise, Redson Kapindu and Ivy Kamanga has since adjourned the case to Monday, August 19 for continued cross-examination of Chilima.
The UTM leader is expected to face cross-examination of other lawyers representing Mutharika—Charles Mhango and Chancy Gondwe.
The Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal on Thursday dismissed, with costs, an appeal President Mutharika and MEC had filed to throw out the ongoing presidential election petition case.
The ruling paved the way for the Constitutional Court to continue hearing the case from Chilima and his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) counterpart, Lazarus Chakwera, who are disputing results of Mutharika’s re-election.