Wild celebrations broke out outside the High Court and on the streets of Blantyre City on Friday after Judge John Chirwa ordered Registrar of Political Parties to register UTM as a political party.
Hundreds of United Transformation Movement (UTM) followers, clad in their red and white colours, danced and ululated as car horns blared outside the court at the news that the movement could finally be registered.
The supporters, who started converging at the court as early as 8am, patiently waited for more than three hours before celebrating a moment in history and later spilling into the Chipembere Highway for further merriment.
The courtroom was packed to size with nearly all names that matter in UTM attending the proceeding as Judge John Chirwa delivered his 25-minute ruling.
The ruling follows hearing of submissions from lawyers representing both the movement and the State on October 16.
UTM leader Vice-President Saulos Chilima filed a six-ground appeal through his lawyer Michael Goba Chipeta challenging the registrar of Political Parties’ decision to reject the movement’s application to register as a political party.
In his submissions, Chipeta argued that it was illogical for the registrar of Political Parties to ignore the information UTM provided and instead base his decision on information that was in the public domain.
Further, Chipeta argued that the movement was not granted an opportunity to be heard as required by rules of natural justice.
In his ruling, Judge Chirwa described the decision by the registrar of Political Parties to reject UTM application as “unreasonable and unjustifiable” and ordered its registration within seven days.
He also concurred with Chipeta saying the registrar erred in not considering the documents UTM presented before him such as the manifesto and constitution and instead only used information from the public domain.
“It is the further considered view of this court that what is relevant for consideration by the respondent [registrar of Political Parties] at the time of registration is the name as presented in the requisite document,” he said.
Further, the court said it did not find anything to stop a political party which was previously known by one name to proceed to apply for registration using a different name.
“The decision of the respondent was unreasonable and unjustified in refusing to register UTM as a political party.
“This court orders the respondent to proceed to register UTM as a political party within the next seven days and this registration should be with effect from 21st September 2018,” ordered Chirwa.
In an interview later, Chipeta said: “We are a nation of traditions and one of the fundamental traditions is adherence to rule of law, so today rule of law has prevailed.”
In his reaction to the ruling, UTM spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga said they were delighted with the outcome and dedicated it to Malawians and their followers across the country for their prayers.
“This was a very difficult moment for us but people maintained calm and peace. We also thank our legal team for being very articulate and the judicial system for being very independent,” he said.
State Counsel Clement Maulidi representing the registrar of Political Parties said it was premature to say anything as regards the way forward of the case.
He said: “The ruling has just been delivered and we are yet to see the copy so until we peruse it that is when we can be in a position to comment.”
Malunga said the movement will now wait to hear from its legal team before starting preparations for its convention.
Among the notable UTM officials present at the court on Friday were Speaker Richard Msowoya, Joseph Chidanti Malunga, Patricia Kaliati, Noel Masangwi, Richard Makondi, Paul Chibingu, Lewis Ngalande and Allan Ngumuya.
Last week, UTM postponed its convention slated for November 9 to an unspecified date saying the decision to hold the big meet then was not in tandem with their constitution which states that the convention should first be announced to members 21 days before the public announcement.
UTM is the only major party that is yet to hold a convention. Malawi Congress Party (MCP) was the first to hold its convention followed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Peoples Party (PP).
Commenting on the ruling, University of Livingstonia political scientist George Phiri said the ruling was a good development for UTM as it would give an encouragement to mobilise people and get ready for the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
“It will also help them to now schedule a date for their elective convention and the positions that will be elected will be legitimate as they will represent a political party,” he said.
Addressing supporters outside the court after the court’s determination, UTM interim secretary general Patricia Kaliati said the ruling was an imitation of the movement’s 2019 victory and thanked the followers for their unwavering support and patience as they battled in court.
She said UTM was unstoppable and was now headed for the elections after their detractors’ move to frustrate their registration was defeated.
In 2011, PP which was started by then Vice-President Joyce Banda also had trouble to register after the registrar of Political Parties rejected its application on the grounds that the abbreviation was similar to that of People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) and Maravi People’s Party (MPP).