Newly formed United Transformation Movement (UTM) will have to wait longer to know the status of its registration as a political party as the High Court has reserved its ruling to an unspecified date.
Presiding judge John Chirwa, while acknowledging the urgency of the case at hand, said that after hearing submissions from lawyers representing UTM and the State he will communicate with both parties the date he will deliver his ruling.
on Tuesday’s submissions followed a six-ground appeal that Vice-President Saulos Chilima through his lawyer Michael Goba Chipeta filed to the High Court in Blantyre challenging the registrar of political parties’ decision to reject UTM’s application to register as a political party last month.
But representing the registrar of political parties, senior assistant chief State advocate Loness Michongwe asked the court to dismiss the appeal.
Making her arguments in a courtroom filled with UTM leaders and supporters mostly clad in the movement’s dominant red colour, she argued that the registrar of political parties’ decision was justified as UTM opted to register using its abbreviation of ‘UTM’ instead of the full name ‘United Transformation Movement’.
In her submission, Michongwe said the information provided was misleading to the registrar; hence, the office had to base its decision on information that was already in the public domain.
But Chipeta argued that there was no logic for the registrar to make a decision based on information not provided by the applicants.
He said, besides, the movement was not granted a chance to be heard as required by rules of natural justice.
Chipeta then also asked the court to ignore the assertions of the registrar and pleaded that the ruling be made within a reasonable time bearing in mind the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections calendar where UTM led by Chilima is seeking to contest.
In an interview later, the lawyer representing UTM said they would wait on the judgement to be made before deciding on the way forward.
Notable UTM figures present in the courtroom included interim secretary general Patricia Kaliati, Richard Makondi, Lewis Ngalande, Felix Njawala and Blantyre City South legislator Allan Ngumuya.
In a letter to UTM following its application, deputy registrar of political parties Chikumbutso Namelo alleged that the use of the abbreviation instead of the full name was a deliberate scheme to mislead the registrar because there is 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 at the movement’s rallies but has not committed to deregistering his party.
In an earlier interview with our sister newspaper Weekend Nation, Kambala said: “The arrangement has been that UTM is a rebrand of UTP.”
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 the UTP.
“The respondent erred in law and fact in deciding whether to register UTM or not by taking into account matters and evidence that was not presented before him by either UTM or any of its officials and hereby acted as prosecutor, witness and a judge in the same case,” reads the grounds of the appeal.
Chilima also argued that it was unfortunate that the registrar decided to interpret UTM as meaning United Transformation Movement when there was no such evidence before him and that the law does not require the registrar to look for the meaning of the name that he thinks of.
In 2003, some elements within the then 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 too similar to that of the People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) and Maravi People’s Party (MPP).