Political and legal commentators have faulted President Peter Mutharika for retaining two commissioners from a Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) team which Parliament deemed incompetent in the management of the nullified May 21 2019 presidential election.
The commentators allege that the move to retain commissioners Jean Mathanga and Linda Kunje in the new team is a ploy to delay the court-ordered fresh presidential election tentatively set for June 23.
In an interview on Monday, law professor Garton Kamchedzera of Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi—said Mutharika envisages a court battle in reviewing his appointment of the two commissioners.
He said: “Although it is allowed that you can re-appoint people, but when you re-appoint commissioners that were held to be incompetent, then the reason for the appointment is not that of the law. There must be another reason.
“In the circumstances, one will not be too far to think that the reason for re-appointment is to actually make sure that the judgement of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal are not respected.
“The hope is that people now start arguing, quarrelling and a litigating about this appointment and as that is being done, the period that the court had established for election elapses.”
Kamchedzera said the level of confidence in the new commission will also remain low and that its capacity will be affected by the presence of the duo.
In a separate interview, private practice lawyer and former Malawi Law Society president John-Gift Mwakhwawa said Mutharika’s decision implies bad faith because the two retained “do not have the monopoly of experience or knowledge to run elections”.
He said: “What we continue to see here is the President still trying to defy the judiciary and Parliament in his fight against these two institutions.”
Mwakhwawa said the decision can be challenged and that it would not take long as the matter can be expedited; hence, essentially not delaying the elections.
Political Science Association (PSA) president Joseph Chunga also argued that Mutharika is up to no good as he has dashed the will of Malawians who wanted new faces at MEC for a fresh start.
He said: “The politics of this decision is Mutharika demonstrating that he is still the one in charge. It is power play in a very simplistic way to demonstrate that he has authority.”
Chunga sympathised with the opposition, saying they have difficult decisions to make as they will have to ponder on whether to challenge the decision or accept it and move on with the election.
Earlier, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson Maurice Munthali also expressed concerns over Mutharika’s decision to retain Mathanga and Kunje.
But presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani last evening said those alleging that the two appointees were found incompetent by the High Court or the Supreme Court were misguiding themselves because the two were not charged for the same.
But Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee, acting on recommendations from the five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court that nullified the presidential election on February 3, assessed the competence of the then commissioners and recommended their dismissal.
Reads the committee’s report: “These commissioners breached the law by running a flawed election whose process was marred with serious irregularities and illegalities…”
Specifically, on Kunje, the report said she demonstrated sufficient knowledge of what the commission is supposed to do but chose to act differently for unknown personal interest.
Besides the duo, the new MEC team, chaired by Lilongwe-based High Court Judge Chifundo Kachale, also includes Arthur Nanthuru, Steve Duwa, Anthony Mukumbwa and Olivia Liwewe.