President Peter Mutharika has moved to reconstitute the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) by writing political parties represented in Parliament to nominate suitable candidates for consideration as commissioners of the electoral body ahead of the fresh presidential election.
Malawi is scheduled to hold the court-ordered fresh presidential election within 150 days from February 3 expiring on July 3 amid a potential crisis at the electoral body where the chairperson Jane Ansah has resigned and the remaining eight commissioners’ term expires on June 5. Initially, the election was set for July 2 before a recent proposal to move the date to June 23.
In a written response on Wednesday, presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani said besides writing the political parties, the President has also requested the Judicial Service Commission to nominate candidates to replace Ansah, a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal who resigned last week after her fellow justices of appeal upheld a Constitutional Court judgement that her team was incompetent in managing the nullified May 21 2019 presidential election.
He said while the President’s request is not time-bound, the expectation is that the concerned parties will respond within reasonable time.
The Electoral Commission (Amendment) Act of 2018 provides that political parties that amassed at least one tenth of the national vote to a parliamentary cohort should submit a maximum of three names as nominees for consideration as MEC commissioners. However, the President appoints commissioners in proportion to the representation of the parties in the national assembly.
Political parties represented in the current Parliament elected during the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections include Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP), United Democratic Front (UDF), People’s Party (PP), UTM Party, Alliance for Democracy (Aford) and Progressive People’s Movement (PPM).
Reacting to the development, MCP spokesperson Maurice Munthali said while he was yet to see the official communication from the President, his party was ready to submit nominees.
He said: “These commissioners were declared incompetent; hence, they needed to pave the way for more credible people. We will respond with speed to the President’s call.”
In a separate interview, DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi confirmed receiving the communication from the President and said they will respond accordingly.
In the post-May 19 presidential election period, Human Rights Defenders Coalition held a series of demonstrations which at times turned ugly to demand the resignation of Ansah and her commissioners for allegedly mismanaging the electoral process, especially in the presidential race.
UTM Party president Saulos Chilima—who is the country’s estranged Vice-President—and MCP president Lazarus Chakwera petitioned the court to nullify the election and a five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court granted them their wish on February 3. The decision was further upheld by the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal on May 8.