President Peter Mutharika has acknowledged receipt of communication from Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (PAC) that assessed the competences of commissioners of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to manage elections and says will act within the law.
Speaking through presidential press secretary and spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani on Monday, the President said he received the communication from the Office of the Speaker about the engagement between PAC and MEC commissioners.
“The President will reflect on the communication and act accordingly within the law,” he said in a written response.
The President’s position comes after PAC chairperson Collins Kajawa hinted that his committee expected Mutharika to act on its report as soon as it was submitted to him to pave the way for a new MEC to manage the fresh presidential election the Constitutional Court ordered to be held within 150 days from February 3.
He said PAC inquired into the competence of the current commission to manage the upcoming presidential election and submitted the report to the President on February 19 this year in compliance with the court judgement.
Kajawa expressed fear that delays to act on the recommendations or any attempt to decide otherwise could be tantamount to the Executive arm of government acting in contempt of court, a thing he says Parliament may consider taking further as it is playing its oversight role on the manner elections should be governed.
He said: “If he [the President] does not sign, Parliament will look at that and will see if it can be taken to court for further action… We think Parliament has complied with the court order and if that will not be complied with, that would be contempt of court…”
Commenting on the issue, Garton Kamchedzera, professor of law at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, argued that if the President may act contrary to PAC expectations, there will be room for stakeholders to take him to court for a judicial review on the decision.
However, he cast doubt on the possibility of the President acting on the recommendations, which sources indicated recommended the firing of all MEC commissioners, including Mutharika’s own appointee chairperson Jane Ansah, saying he is an interested party.
In a separate interview, Malawi Law Society president Burton Mhango considered the situation as tricky because it is not the question of must that Mutharika will agree to the proposal to fire the entire commission.
He said PAC only presented recommendations to the President and that the report itself is not an order to compel him to act.
Mhango said if Mutharika chooses to act contrary to the PAC recommendations, the current MEC would manage the forthcoming fresh election.
Electoral stakeholders such as UTM Party president Saulos Chilima, who is also the country’s Vice-President, Malawi Congress Party president Lazarus Chakwera and Human Rights Defenders Coalition are on record to have demanded the stepping down of the current commission.