Malawi Law Society (MLS) has faulted the conduct of governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) in the aftermath of the February 3 Constitutional Court judgement that nullified the May 2019 presidential election.
In a letter signed by its honorary secretary Martha Kaukonde, MLS has asked DPP to follow due legal processes for reporting complaints of alleged criminal conduct if the allegations levelled against the judges have any underlying merit.
In the case of HRDC, MLS condemned the grouping for organising demonstrations that led to the closing and locking of the offices of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to push for the resignation of the electoral body’s chairperson Jane Ansah and her team of commissioners.
DPP is holding a series of nationwide demonstrations under the theme March for the Restoration of Democratic Justice in protest against the ruling by the five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court.
The court ruled in favour of petitioners—UTM Party presidential candidate Saulos Chilima (first petitioner) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate Lazarus Chakwera (second petitioner)—who sought nullification of the presidential election in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections over irregularities, especially in the results management system.
In its 10-point petition, DPP has accused the presiding judges of being influenced by bribes purportedly from the petitioners or their agents, among others.
But MLS has asked DPP to publicly withdraw the corruption allegations against the judges and desist from any further conduct of such kind.
Reads the MLS statement: “The Law Society finds this conduct by the Democratic Progressive Party to be a direct attack on the independence of the Judiciary and contrary to the constitutional dictates.
“DPP and indeed any political grouping or opinion makers are hereby called upon to desist from inciting the uninformed public against judges. We strongly condemn and discourage such conduct and insist that if there is any query with the High Court judgement, appropriate appeal processes provided for under the law be pursued to their logical end.”
In respect of HRDC’s sealing of MEC offices, MLS said: “The society notes that the High Court in its judgement outlined the relevant legal steps that need to be taken to determine the ability of the MEC commissioners to conduct the fresh elections ordered by the court and that those processes are publicly under way.
“We recommend to members and leaders of HRDC to seek appropriate legal counsel and observe the relevant limits and legal guidance in any future pursuit of the right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully and unarmed.”
But when contacted yesterday, DPP secretary general (SG) Grezelder Jeffrey said the party was yet to see the MLS statement and would only comment after that.
She later turned down an offer by The Nation to forward the MLS statement to her, saying DPP has its own means of getting such communications.
In a separate interview, HRDC vice-chairperson Gift Trapence yesterday faulted MLS, saying its point of view was misplaced.
He said: “The Malawi Law Society are not the law themselves. They cannot stop Malawians from exercising their constitutional right.
“Malawians were not wrong to seal MEC offices. We’ve lawyers that advise us and they differ with their opinion. But we’re not surprised this is coming from them [MLS].
“Malawians have been demonstrating for the past nine months demanding the removal of MEC commissioners which has been vindicated by the court’s decision.”
On the other hand, lawyer Justin Dzonzi said there was nothing wrong with what DPP did to hold peaceful demonstrations but the attack on the Judiciary was outright criminal.
He said DPP’s conduct was criminal on two fronts: First it is undermining the Judiciary. Second, it is in contempt of court.
Dzonzi said such reckless accusations against the Judiciary should not have happened and, if anything, the party should have privately reported to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
He also said HRDC has the right to carry on with demonstrations, but accused the grouping of overstepping its limit when it went to seal MEC offices.
HRDC also had the backing of lawyer John-Gift Mwakhwawa who said in an interview that the coalition’s demonstrations were only targeted at forcing MEC commissioners to resign and they started way before the judgement on the presidential election nullification case.
He said citizens have a right to demonstrate for any cause within what the law provides, but agreed with the lawyers’ body and Dzonzi in condemning the DPP’s “deliberate onslaught” on the Judiciary as it was criminal.
“The DPP should have realised the seriousness and consequences of undermining the independence of the Judiciary, which is a cornerstone of our democracy. The better process was to appeal, without calling any judge corrupt,” said Mwakhwawa, a former MLS president.
In its statement, MLS has appealed to all stakeholders to respect the February 3 judgement of the High Court until the matter is dealt by the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal where first respondent President Peter Mutharika and second respondent Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) have since appealed.
But MLS, which previously asked political parties to prepare their supporters for the verdict in the case, has commended the public for maintain peace after the judgement.