The High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court hearing the presidential elections nullification petition says it is keen to conclude hearing by December 6, but foresees challenges by hook or crook.
Judge Healey Potani, who is chairing the five-judge panel that also includes Dingiswayo Madise, Redson Kapindu, Mike Tembo and Ivy Kamanga, made the announcement yesterday at the close of the 56th day of sitting.
He said the court will today meet in judges’ chambers with the parties to the case to resolve how to proceed and meet the deadline.
Potani said the court is determined to conclude hearing testimonies in the landmark case by Friday. In the event that the Friday deadline is missed, he said the court will take a rare move to sit on a Saturday.
He said: “We are operating on an understanding that we will finish on Friday Sixth December. In respect of the directives, it will be a challenge to meet it [the deadline].
“We will discuss the final details tomorrow in the chamber. We need 24 hours to complete hearing. We now sit from 9am to 6pm. So, for us to finish within 24 hours, we will finish on Friday 6pm.
“We will need to give away or donate some of the time. In the worst case scenario, we may need to meet on Saturday. So, let’s consider it.”
Earlier yesterday, the court dismissed two applications filed by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), the second respondent in the case, which sought to limit the manner of cross-examination by petitioners challenging the presidential election results in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Through its lead lawyer Tamando Chokotho, MEC wanted to stop lawyers representing second petitioner and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera from cross-examining its second witness, Henzily Munkhondya, who is the director of electoral services.
Further, MEC also wanted the court to stop lawyers representing first petitioner and UTM Party presidential candidate Saulos Chilima from using tables as illustrations during the same cross-examination process.
In his submission, Chokotho argued that the planned use of tables by Chilima’s lawyers was tantamount to introducing new evidence through the backdoor. However, Chilima’s lawyers insisted that the tables would only help in guiding witnesses.
But the five-judge panel dismissed MEC on both applications and noted that the use of boxes for illustration did not amount to introduction of new evidence.
The judges also said Chakwera’s lawyers submitted a prior notice as procedurally required contrary to assertions by MEC lawyers; hence, no need to bar them.
Following the ruling, Khumbo Soko, a member of Chilima’s legal team, started cross-examining Munkhondya.
The lawyer focused on the result management process and on several instances suggested that either the witness did not understand the process or he came to court ill-prepared.
Soko asked Munkhondya on several unsigned result sheets, security of ballot boxes and why some alterations were done at constituency tally centres and not polling centres where the counting of votes was done.
In one response, Munkhondya told the court that he had no figures on the number of altered votes.
To which Soko retorted: “You seem to be ignorant of your own statement.”
In an interview after the day’s session, Chokotho said MEC attempted to avoid wasting time when the cross-examination began, but respected the decision of the court.
“That’s the decision of the court, we accept it. What we were emphasising is that we wanted to save time. Most of the things the petitioners are now raising are not included in their petitions,” he said.
Hearing continues today with Munkhondya expected to continue testifying under cross-examination from Chilima’s lawyers and later Chakwera’s lawyers.
In the case where President Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party, the declared winner, is the first respondent, Chilima and Chakwera are challenging the results of the presidential race citing irregularities, especially in the results management system.