Newly-appointed Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) commissioners took turns in Lilongwe on Monday to swear the oaths of allegiance and office, vowing to “protect and defend the Constitution of Malawi”.
The commissioners, Emmanuel Fabiano, Francis Kasaila and Caroline Mfune of Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) and Richard Chapweteka of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) were appointed by President Lazarus Chakwera nearly two weeks ago after the High Court dismissed their predecessors appointments as unlawful.
Kasaila, however, missed the ceremony as he was reported to be outside the country on official business, according to Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal and High Court registrar Gladys Gondwe who administered the oaths.
The quartet has joined MCP commissioners Anthony Mukumbwa and Olivia Liwewe who were spared when the High Court removed DPP-sponsored Arthur Nanthuru, Jean Mathanga, Linda Kunje and Steve Duwa.
Presiding over the ceremony, Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda asked the commissioners to take their responsibility seriously.
He said: “We all know that elections can make and break a society. We have examples near and examples afar. Therefore, the responsibility that you undertake from this moment, to preside over elections for our democracy to be sustained, is a make and break responsibility.
“Elections are regulated by a detailed legal framework. It is that framework and your responsibility to our people that will make the management of our election free and fair.”
Nyirenda said a contested election is costly.
“It should never be as it has been in the nearest past that our elections follow the trail of a protracted court trial, an extremely expensive process all because at one point we took a wrong turn,” he explained.
The High Court, sitting as the Constitutional Court, annulled the May 21 2019 presidential election, citing massive irregularities. The court then ordered a new election which took place on June 23 2020, ushering in the current Tonse Alliance administration led by President Lazarus Chakwera.
In an interview after the swearing-in ceremony, commissioner Fabiano said although their appointments followed a nomination from their parties, they will be representing the whole country.
The Tonse Alliance lead partner MCP moved the court to remove the four commissioners on grounds that immediate-past president Peter Mutharika of the DPP violated the law in their appointment.
MCP’s argument centred on Section 4 of the amended Electoral Commission Act of 2017 which empowers parties that obtain one tenth of the parliamentary seats to submit to the president a minimum of three nominees.
With MCP and DPP being the only parties that achieved the requirement, they were supposed to nominate three commissioners each but MCP wondered, in a court application, why only two of MCP’s three nominees were appointed and DPP had four.
Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda ruled in favour of MCP in his verdict delivered early this month, and ordered the appointment of new commissioners.