As Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) prepares for a fresh presidential election, major political parties say they have no confidence in the electoral body.
MEC is set to launch and release its calendar today in Blantyre. The commission’s director of media and public relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa said in a brief statement yesterday the event will be restricted to the media only in view of the coronavirus directions on public gatherings.
But MEC’s move has not gone down well with opposition parties Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and alliance partner UTM Party saying they will not recognise the calendar because MEC commissioners were found incompetent to handle elections.
MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka and UTM Party publicity secretary Joseph Chidanti Malunga stated in separate telephone interviews yesterday that Parliament found the current MEC commissioners incompetent to handle any election and as such, they will not recognise whatever electoral processes the current commission may be undertaking.
Mwafulirwa has since said MEC is going ahead with releasing the electoral calendar today.
He said in an interview: “I can confirm to you that the commission will release the calendar for fresh elections on Monday (today). We will organise a press briefing in Blantyre. We are aware of the directives by the State President regarding congregations of people. That is why we have limited it to the media.”
While he did not show interest to answer questions on the strategies MEC has put in place to ensure they work together with political parties amid the political standoff, he said the commission will organise a separate meeting with other electoral stakeholders on the calendar.
“We are aware that we have to meet electoral stakeholders regarding this calendar. So, we will organise a separate meeting where we will invite all political parties, civil society and government departments,” Mwafulirwa said.
But Mkaka said by releasing the calendar today, MEC will be making a mistake since they might be doing processes which are not in compliance with the court order and recommendations which the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) of Parliament made in a report it sent to President Peter Mutharika for his action.
He said: “First of all, let us put this in a proper context. These elections are not coming as a result of the expiry of office of the President but as a result of the court order. The court ordered that Parliament should enact laws and that it should enquire into the competence of current commissioners.
“Parliament found the commissioners lacking in capacity to conduct elections. As a party we do not expect them to do anything regarding elections. And that calendar will not be welcome. I want to tell them that they are making a big mistake.”
PAC recommended that President Mutharika should fire the entire commission for their gross incompetence in managing the May 21 2019 presidential election. This was after the Constitutional Court on February 3 this year annulled the same election, having found irregularities in the handling of the elections and a blatant flouting of electoral procedures by MEC.
But Mutharika tore apart the report, citing among other reasons that commissioners were not given enough time to appear before the inquest to competently respond to the questions regarding how they managed the election.
On his part, Malunga said his party considers MEC’s position to release the calendar as a legal issue.
The UTM Party publicity secretary, whose party has formed an alliance with MCP in readiness for the fresh poll, feared the electoral body may fix its own date for holding the election that is contrary to what the Legal Committee of Parliament set.
He said: “This is a legal issue. It was decided by Parliament and we know the President did not assent to the [Electoral Reforms] Bills. This means those bills are law and they are using the existing law to their advantage.
“As a party we have not sat down to see what we should do next. We will seek legal advice and we will make our official position when we get communication from MEC.”
Meanwhile, commenting in his personal capacity, Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) chairperson Steven Duwa says MEC is justified to proceed with election preparations as there is no new commission as per the opposition parties’ wish.
He said in an interview yesterday that by proceeding with the preparations, MEC will ensure that they comply with the court order to hold a fresh election within the given period.
Said Duwa: “If we consider the court ruling, we find that MEC is central to the elections. At the moment, we don’t have a new commission and if we are to see progress in the fresh election, we should let the current commission begin the process. ”
He described the current situation as a crisis, saying “we are struggling to implement the court order”.
In the February 3 judgement, a five-member panel of High Court judges sitiing as the Constitutional Court in the presidential election nullification case unanimously found that MEC handled the May 21 2019 election with gross incompetence and ordered a fresh election be conducted within 150 days of the judgement. The court further ruled that Parliament should assess the commissioners’ competence to conduct the fresh election.
Chancellor College law professor Garton Kamchezera has told The Nation previously that not obeying the court order is tantamount to contempt of court and concerned parties can seek a judicial review over the matter.
If the court order is to be complied with, MEC is supposed to conduct fresh polls by July 3 this year.
July 2 for voting
The calendar that MEC is launching today indicates that elections are slated for July 2 this year—a day before the expiry of 150 days given by the Constitutional Court in the presidential election nullification judgement.
When asked whether MEC would be able to stick to the calendar activities considering President Peter Mutharika’s declaration of a State of Disaster following the coronavirus outbreak, MEC chairperson Jane Ansah refused to comment.
But a source who spoke on condition of anonymity said the calendar is authentic.
Among some activities, the calendar outlines the date which MEC held the National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting in Blantyre on March 13 this year, a week before Mutharika took a stand against coronavirus outbreak.
Other major activities include the presentation of nomination papers from 23 to 24 April, to be followed by publication of names of candidates and official launch of campaign on April 26.
According to the calendar, ballot papers and result sheets will be printed and packaging checked on May 3 this year, while polling will be done on the July 2.
Determination and announcement of the results is scheduled for July 3 to10 2020, with the results being published on July 11.