The Constitutional Court has given Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) a five-day relief to conclude collection of sworn affidavits before trial starts on August 8 in a case where petitioners want presidential election results nullified.
The ruling by a five-member panel of High Court judges sitting as the Constitutional Court in Lilongwe was part of the court’s two key requests that MEC made prior to the initial commencement of the case on July 29.
MEC wanted to be given a 14-day extension for compiling sworn statements and a court order against officials and supporters of first petitioner UTM Party president Saulos Chilima and second petitioner Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera, restraining them from interfering with their work.
Earlier, the electoral body also applied that the High Court removes a certificate of non-compliance by MEC on the order the court made—that parties in the case should submit affidavits within 11 days from June 27 this year.
Making the ruling on MEC’s plea for more time, judge Dingiswayo Madise faulted the reasoning, saying it was not the basis that can make the court grant more time because the electoral body began the exercise on an equal footing with its stakeholders.
He argued that MEC, just like the petitioners, had an equal opportunity to inspect documents and make submissions before the deadline.
On the issue of application for injunction, the court also argued that it would not be practical to enforce such an order to the public, especially since MEC could not prove the people involved were MCP and UTM supporters.
Instead, the court ordered the Malawi Police Service (MPS), with probable support from the Malawi Defence Force (MDF), should provide maximum security to MEC officials as they solicit the sworn affidavits.
But the court gave the commission relief of an extra five days to finish its exercise because of the interruption faced in Kasungu. The court said the five days are effective today and that the timeline would include weekends and public holidays.
On the application to remove the certificate of non-compliance, Madise said the court was convinced that MEC did not comply with the order, as it did not submit the needed documents since some were yet to be deposited to Parliament.
During a conference scheduling session in court last month, MEC lawyers told the court that the commission deposited some of the elections documents with the Clerk of Parliament (CoP). But the court said it was surprised the same documents were not submitted to the court as ordered.
Madise stated: “The Clerk of Parliament was not able to disclose the documents because the second respondent [MEC] did not deposit the documents as said…
“The court, therefore, finds that the second respondent did not comply with the order. Therefore, the application to remove the certificate of non-compliance is dismissed.”
Last week, MEC argued that it needed more time to solicit information and submit disclosures because that would benefit all parties involved in the case.
Lawyer Frank Mbeta, who is representing President Peter Mutharika (the first respondent in the case), said the tone will help lawyers not to be intimidated while they are on duty since the court also ordered Chakwera to withdraw, by today, the intimidating remarks made by MCP publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali in the media through a press release issued on July 13.
The extra five days have made the court to shift the commencement date for the full hearing from July 29 to August 8 after MEC submits all the relevant documents to the court on 6 August.