Vice-President Saulos Chilima and the United Transformation Movement (UTM) face a defining moment today when the High Court will determine the movement’s registration status ahead of the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Private practice lawyer Michael Goba Chipeta, who is representing Chilima, and the movement’s interim secretary general Patricia Kaliati confirmed receiving communication from the High Court regarding today’s ruling.
Said the lawyer: “I can confirm that the court has set tomorrow at 10.30am for judgement on the appeal. I was communicated by the High Court clerk on the same.”
Presiding judge John Chirwa will deliver his judgement after hearing submissions from lawyers representing both the movement and the State two weeks ago.
The submissions followed a six-ground appeal the Vice-President filed through Chipeta challenging the Registrar of Political Parties’ decision to reject UTM’s application to register as a political party.
But in its submissions, the State through senior assistant chief State advocate Loness Michongwe, who represented the registrar of political parties, asked the court to dismiss the appeal arguing the registrar’s decision was justified as UTM opted to register using its abbreviation of ‘UTM’ instead of the full name which is ‘United Transformation Movement’.
She argued that the information UTM provided in its application documents was misleading to the Registrar of Political Parties.
However, Chipeta argued that it was illogical for the registrar to base his decision on information not provided by the applicants saying, besides, the movement was not granted a chance to be heard as required by rules of natural justice.
In September, deputy registrar of political parties Chikumbutso Namelo wrote UTM following its application for registration claiming the movement’s use of the abbreviation instead of a full name was a deliberate scheme to mislead the registrar as there was already another registered political party with a similar sounding name.
The deputy registrar was apparently referring to United Transformation Party registered by businessperson Newton Kambala who earlier announced his partnership with UTM though he is yet to deregister his party.
But in the appeal case filed as Civil Case Number 113 of 2018, Chilima argued that the registrar erred in law and fact in holding that the name UTM closely resembles that of another political party known as UTP.
Whichever side, the ruling will influence the movement as it prepares to hold its first elective convention which was initially scheduled for November 9 2018, but has since been postponed to an unspecified date.
The court judgement on the UTM registration fate will also precede a fundraising dinner and dance the movement has organised at Comesa Hall tonight dubbed Kuwala Night.
Previously, several other groups faced registration hurdles before they were saved by the courts.
In 2003, some elements within the then governing United Democratic Front (UDF) unsuccessfully thwarted attempts by Brown Mpinganjira to register his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) when they registered a political party in the same name then later changed to New Dawn for Africa in another attempt to stop the registration after the High Court intervened.
In 2011, People’s Party (PP) started by the country’s then Vice-President Joyce Banda also had trouble registering the party when the Registrar of Political Parties rejected the application on the grounds that the abbreviation was similar to that of the People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) and Maravi People’s Party (MPP). n