Debate has ensued on the influence of embattled Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah with some governance analysts stating her position has become technically untenable in the face of growing calls for her resignation.
While the MEC chairperson, who is also a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, is on record as having said the Constitutional Court hearing a petition for the nullification of the presidential race in the May 21 Tripartite Elections will determine if she was wrong, two analysts argue that her stay in the position is affecting the electoral body’s image.
In a telephone interview on Monday, governance analyst Henry Chingaipe said in the circumstances, Ansah’s position at the helm of MEC was “only tenable in legal sense”.
He said: “If what is happening in the country regarding the role of the MEC chair was happening in a country where democracy and governance systems were strong, Justice Ansah would have stepped down on her own long ago.
“But the problem is that in our country, people look at the legality context and not the ethical considerations. Apart from her being in that position legally, there is need to consider the integrity of the position she holds and the whole institution.”
In a separate interview, Ernest Thindwa, a political commentator based at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said he believed that Ansah’s status as MEC chairperson was no longer safe.
He said: “Whether what she did was right or wrong, her position is untenable.
“The significance of the issues that some people have raised, including the position by the court to validate the petition by Malawi Congress Party [MCP] and UTM, shows that the concerns are genuine.
“In my view, perception matters most and that the best thing Justice Ansah would do is to honourably resign.”
But another analyst, Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) executive director Rafik Hajat, in a telephone interview said while the matter was being discussed, the courts have better answers.
“It is a fact that this matter is not going to go away until the truth about what happened comes out in the open.
“When the courts make that full disclosure and evidence is brought forward, then we would safely say whether Justice Ansah should stay or not. But at the moment, she is in an awkward position,” he said.
Efforts to talk to Ansah on Monday proved futile as she could not be reached through her known mobile phone number. But in an interview monitored on Zodiak Broadcasting Station last week, she refused to step down.
She said: “There are laws concerning everything they are talking about. So, for me, the right way is to allow the whole process to complete. What they are doing is mob justice.”
Ansah has become the second MEC chairperson to face resignation calls after the late William Hanjahanja who tendered his resignation in May 1999 amid pressure from electoral stakeholders.
Then president Bakili Muluzi replaced Hanjahanja, who cited health grounds as reasons for his resignation within weeks to the 1999 elections, with Supreme Court Judge James Kalaile.
Stakeholders accused Hanjahanja of poor leadership, but the commission said medical doctors had given him a two-week bed rest after treating him for malaria and high blood pressure.
On June 20, civil society organisations (CSOs) under the banner of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) held demonstrations in the country’s four cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba to force Ansah to step down for allegedly mismanaging the elections.
The CSOs, who were joined by the two petitioners seeking nullification of the presidential elections, Saulos Chilima of UTM Party and Lazarus Chakwera of MCP, have organised vigils and fresh anti-Ansah demonstrations on July 4 and 5.
Reacting to the calls for the MEC chairperson to resign, President Peter Mutharika’s spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani said the President was not intending to fire Ansah following the calls from CSOs and other political parties.
He said: “The issue you are raising is between those asking for Justice Ansah’s resignation and the holder of the position herself. Justice Ansah adequately and ably addressed the issue in her personal capacity. The issue is not about the appointing authority. Therefore, canvassing for the President’s opinion on this matter at this point is jumping the gun.” Besides the CSOs, Chilima, who served as the country’s vice-president between May 2014 and May 2019, also asked Ansah to resign for allegedly compromising her independence in the management of the elections.