Democracy is not cheap and taxpayers will have to dig deeper to fetch an extra K700 million for the conduct of three deferred parliamentary by-elections in Mangochi and Phalombe districts.
Earlier this week, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Chifundo Kachale announced the extension of the 50-percent-plus-one vote threshold in deciding winners to parliamentary and local government elections in line with directions from the courts.
In separate interviews on Tuesday this week, political parties backed the electoral body on the decision, but political scientist Blessings Chinsinga, an associate professor at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said the arrangement will be difficult and expensive to implement.
True to Chinsinga’s fears, Kachale—a judge of the High Court of Malawi—on Tuesday confirmed to journalists in Lilongwe that the electoral body will need an extra K700 million to conduct by-elections in Phalombe North, Mangochi North West and Mangochi South East constituencies.
Initially, MEC planned to conduct by-elections in Karonga Central, Lilongwe North West, Mangochi West, Mangochi North East, Phalombe North constituencies and Makhuwira Ward in Chikwawa.
The budget for the five constituencies and the ward was pegged at K700 million, but the figure will double as MEC will need more resources to undertake activities to lay the foundation for the by-elections, according to Kachale.
During the Wednesday news conference in Lilongwe, Kachale said the commission arrived at “this rather difficult decision” to extend the 50-percent-plus-one vote threshold implementation in the spirit of seeking to obey judicial directions impacting upon its mandate as the electoral management body and after reflecting on the full legal ramifications of the October 7 2020 High Court of Malawi decision on its mandate.
He said: “In the first place, it is important to acknowledge that our initial understanding had been that the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal decision of 8th May 2020 [in so far as the question of registration of new voters and candidates is concerned], was confined to the fresh presidential election; but as it has turned out, we were mistaken in that belief.”
In Section 96(5), the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act stipulates that “in any election, the candidate who has obtained a majority of the votes at the poll shall be declared by the commission to have been duly elected”. Section 80(5) of the Local Government Elections Act also has a similar provision.
Kachale observed that the recent court decisions have adopted the Black’s Law Dictionary definition of ‘majority’ as the proper interpretation of the term within Section 80(2) of the Constitution.
He said: “In the context of the direction to adhere faithfully to the decision of the 8th May 2020 from the Supreme Court therefore, found no basis for distinguishing the term ‘majority’ as used in the Constitution and in the PPE Act.”the commission has,
Kachale said the absence of run-off provisions should not be a basis for finding convenient meanings that cover or conceal the inadequacies in the law.
The November 10 2020 by-elections have been deferred in Mangochi West, Mangochi North East and Phalombe North constituencies whose vacancies followed court nullification of the May 21 2019 parliamentary elections. However, the process will proceed as planned in Lilongwe North West and Karonga Central constituencies as well as Makhuwira South Ward in Chikwawa.
Said Kachale: “Following the judgement of the High Court in the case of Martin Chikati Sekati Nyengo and Simeon Harrison versus Electoral Commission, on October 7 October 2020, the Commission held an extra-ordinary meeting where, among other things, it deliberated on the conduct of the by-election on the constituencies.
“In order to ensure that the above processes are implemented smoothly, the commission has resolved to defer all elections which are being conducted as a result of the nullification of the 2019 parliamentary elections in Mangochi West, Mangochi North East, and Phalombe North.”
The court guided that those who should vote in the by-election in constituencies where results were nullified shall be those who voted on May 21 2019. It also said candidates who contested will be eligible to contest under political parties they represented.
In the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, The Nation analysis of the results shows that only 66 candidates in the 192 constituencies contested out of 193 hit the 50-percent-plus-one vote threshold. The results show that 23 of the candidates were affiliated to Democratic Progressive Party, 22 to Malawi Congress Party, 17 were independents, two for UTM Party and one each for United Democratic Front and People’s Party.
This means that if MEC were to apply the 50-percent-plus-one vote threshold in parliamentary election reruns, it would have been conducted in 127 constituencies.
The courts interpreted “majority” to mean 50-percent-plus-one vote in the presidential election nullification petition case both in the Constitutional Court in Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima and Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera v. Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika and the Electoral Commission, Constitutional Reference No. 1 of 2019 and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal in Arthur Peter Mutharika and the Electoral Commission v. Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima and Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, MSCA Constitutional Appeal Number 1 of 2020.