Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Parliamentarian for Mangochi West, Geoffrey Chiwondo, yesterday became the first casualty in the on-going May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections cases after the High Court in Blantyre nullified the constituency’s legislative results.
Judge Sylvester Kalembera also ordered Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to conduct a re-run in the constituency having considered what he described as “irregularities and inconsistencies in the results,” but fell short of declaring the petitioner, Simeon Harrison, as elected member of Parliament (MP).
Harrison, who stood as an independent candidate, took the matter to court, challenging the elections’ results and the electoral body’s declaration of the DPP candidate as the winner.
Meanwhile, Chiwondo, who was present in court, has said he needs to “carefully read” the judgement, but would wait from his lawyer for advice on the way forward.
“At the moment, there is nothing I can say in reaction to the judgment,” he said in a telephone interview.
Making his ruling in the Election Petition Case Number 10 of 2019, Judge Kalembera observed that Harrison’s evidence demonstrated that MEC failed to conduct a free and fair Parliamentary election, thus rendering the credibility of the election and its results “highly questionable”.
Among others, the judge said having gone through the evidence presented in court, he found that Harrison had demonstrated that in certain instances, such as at Makunula Polling Centre, results were tampered with in favour of Chiwondo.
He observed the constituency had two returning officers who presided over the elections at different times on behalf of MEC, but gave contradictory testimonies on who won the polls and that some results sheets were not signed by people who were required to do so.
Kalembera said if MEC and its officers had conducted the elections as required and expected, there should not have been conflicting results from its officers.
The judge said it was “very troubling” that contrary to the provisions of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act (PPEA), MEC personnel did not give monitors copies of the result sheets.
The court also faulted the testimony of MEC chief elections officer, through bring clarity and certainty on constituency results.his deposition, for failing to
“He failed to disclose the official results sheet that the 1st Respondent used to declare the 3rd Respondent as a duly elected Member of Parliament for Mangochi West Constituency as requested. He did not even exhibit, as would be expected, computer-generated documents to substantiate his claim that the 3rd Respondent was the legitimate winner of the said parliamentary seat.
The court said, all in all, it was satisfied that Harrison had “demonstrated, established and proved to the required standard” that due to the observed irregularities, the results ought to and were affected and that the results declared and announced by MEC did not reflect the will of the people and electorate who participated in the vote.
“Thus, the petitioner, has proved that the 1st Respondent incorrectly declared the 3rd Respondent as the duly elected Member of Parliament… Consequently, I nullify the parliamentary results as declared and announced by the 1st Respondent,” he said.
Harrison claimed in his argument that he won the elections with one vote after beating Chiwondo with 4518 votes against 4517, which MEC declared Chiwondo had won with 4527 votes.
In an interview after the ruling, lawyer Wester Kosamu, who represented Harrison, said he was delighted with the ruling because justice had prevailed.
“This is exactly what we were looking for. Our argument was that the one who was declared a winner was wrongly declared so, because the procedures were actually not followed and the court was convinced with our evidence,” he said.
MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said the commission was a law-abiding institution and respects the court’s judgment.
But University of Livingstonia political scientist George Phiri said in reaction that the ruling has laid bare the leniency MEC had towards the DPP candidate.
“It also shows there was manipulation of electoral data for MEC to declare the DPP candidate as a winner. So, apart from conducting a re-run, MEC has lost trust in the constituents in that area because they declared a person who did not win the elections,” said Phiri.