There is confusion on holding of fresh presidential election after Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) said the proposed July 2 date could breach the 150 days period prescribed by the Constitutional Court.
In her report presented to the National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting in Mangochi on Wednesday, embattled MEC chairperson Jane Ansah said Parliament should set the date for the fresh election as ordered by the High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court on February 3 and upheld by the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal on May 8.
In a statement that effectively disowned the electoral body’s own set July 2—which is a day before the expiry of the 150 days—she said the court judgement should be complied with.
Ansah, a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, said: “The campaign period was expected to run up to 30 June 2020, but because the actual polling date has not been set, stakeholders should know that according to law campaign period must end 48 hours to the start of polling.
“The judgement of the Supreme Court has to be complied with. It is the responsibility of Parliament to decide on the date of holding the polls. The commission is confident that Parliament will do the needful very soon.”
But in an interview last evening, Sunduzwayo Madise, dean of law at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said the electoral body has powers to set the date for the fresh election in the same way it sets dates for by-elections for parliamentary and local government elections.
He said: “The reason Parliament was setting up the date was to harmonise the law because the law talks about tripartite elections and that we shall hold [general] elections every five years so they didn’t want to have some President run for a four-year term. That was the direction of the court.
“But MEC has powers to set dates just like they do with by-elections when a member of Parliament or ward councillor dies.”
Madise said the reason the law provides that the electoral body’s chairpersonship be the preserve of a judge was to ensure easy understanding and interpretation of the law.
But in an interview after the Necof meeting, Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee chairperson Kezzie Msukwa sounded helpless, saying the Executive branch of government has deliberately created a difficult situation which may lead to a constitutional crisis.
He said private member’s bills passed in Parliament in March set the date on May 19 after taking into consideration all activities in the electoral calendar, including voting, counting of votes and announcement of results as well with the 50-percent-plus-one system in place.as a possible run-off election
Msukwa said it was shocking to hear Ansah proposing to have fresh election on June 23 to accommodate the electoral activities before the expiry of the court set 150 days whose deadline is July 3.
On her part, UTM Party secretary general Patricia Kaliati said they have no confidence in MEC and claimed that what is happening is part of a scheme to frustrate the court-ordered election.
She said it is unfortunate that Ansah is abusing her position.
“Why did they change the dates when they know they have no power to do so? This is abuse of her office or she simply wants to continue to play with the minds of Malawians? We will not play her games. We will do what is right until these elections are held. This is why we do not want these commissioners,” said Kaliati whose party’s president Saulos Chilima has partnered Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera as running mate.
But United Democratic Front (UDF) secretary general Kandi Padambo, whose party is in an alliance Party (DPP), said they are optimistic that the election will be done according to the order of the court.with Democratic Progressive
He said he has no reason to think that the Executive is deliberately frustrating the process.
MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka and his DPP counterpart Grezelder Jeffrey did not pick our calls for their reaction.
While MEC points to Parliament as key to setting the date, Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani-Hara, in a telephone interview last evening, could not tell when the National Assembly will be meeting, saying consultations with the President are in progress.
Initially, Parliament was scheduled to meet from May 8 for the Budget Meeting, but this was postponed indefinitely in the wake of restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.