Details have emerged that the person aspiring to represent the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the pending Lilongwe City South East Constituency by-elections is ineligible as he is not a registered voter.
Court documents The Nation has seen indicate that Rueben Ngwenya, a former diplomat at the Malawi Embassy in Japan, wants the High Court to order Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to open the registration process again so that he can register as a voter to be allowed to contest.
The court action follows MEC’s rejection of an earlier request by Ngwenya to be registered.
While Ngwenya is not officially the DPP candidate in the constituency as the party is yet to hold primaries, several senior party officials have confided in The Nation that he is the preferred choice for the party hierarchy which recently resolved to hold a competitive process to select a torchbearer for the by-election.
MEC has called for a by-election in the constituency after the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal ordered a re-run following the nullification of the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections that declared DPP’s Bentley Namasasu winner. The elections were contested in court by Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate Ulemu Msungama who argued there were irregularities in the elections.
While confirming his intention to contest as a DPP candidate, Ngwenya dismissed suggestions that his case was connected to the delays by government to fund the by-elections.
He said: “This court case should be seen in the wider perspective where I am fighting for an important legal review. I think it is only fair and just that those who are unable to register due to call of duty are allowed at a certain time to do so.
“I also think it is important that I should state [that] I have no control of government’s actions. It could be true government has no funds for the elections. Of course, I stand to benefit from the elections, but I am not the reason why government has delayed the funds. [Again] I cannot control an independent body such as MEC.”
According to the court documents filed under an application termed Certificate of Extreme Urgency, Ngwenya, who says he was in Japan on duty during the registration for the 2014 elections, through his lawyers, further says delays to review the case will jeopardise and adversely infringe upon his constitutional rights to vote and contest in the constituency.
Ngwenya is pleading for five courses of action from the court: An order to MEC to register him as a voter; a declaration of MEC’s decision to reject his request for registration be declared unconstitutional; MEC to issue Ngwenya a voters’ certificate; for the court to take any appropriate action in such matters and finally rule on who shoulder bear the costs of the legal case.
But Nkhata Bay Central MP Ralph Mhone (People’s Party-PP), a lawyer, has described the attempt by Ngwenya as unconstitutional. He cited a previous court case where an aspiring councillor for Chibavi Ward in Mzuzu City Constituency was rejected by the courts after missing out on the initial registration, but attempted to register during by-elections.
He said: “It is unconstitutional. The case of the PP councillor is a precedent. The courts already ruled that it is unacceptable [for a person who failed to register during initial registration to register in a by-election].”
DPP director of elections Kondwani Nankhumwa said his party was yet to come up with a date for primaries for the constituency and said Ngwenya’s DPP membership was not defined.
He said: “As DPP, we don’t have a candidate yet. We are yet to set up primary elections. We asked the district committee to set up a date of their own preference and they are yet to come back to us…
“We don’t know the exact status of [Ngwenya]. He could be DPP or not. We don’t know each and every member of the DPP, his membership cannot be properly defined. The party has no official names of those who want to contest.”
Ngwenya rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) until former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika appointed him Ambassador to Japan in March 2011.n