Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) wants the Constitutional Court to give it 14 more days to file sworn affidavits in the presidential election petition case on the basis that agents of petitioners allegedly interfered with its processes.
In the application the Constitutional Court is scheduled to hear today, the electoral body is also seeking an order barring the petitioners or their agents from interfering with the recording of sworn statements of witnesses.
If MEC is granted its wish, the extension will likely have a bearing on the timeline of the case where UTM Party president Saulos Chilima (first petitioner) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera (second petitioner) are seeking nullification of the presidential results in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections. President Peter Mutharika, by virtue of being the declared winner, is the first respondent while MEC is the second respondent.
The five-judge panel of the High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court set July 29 this year as the date when hearing of the substantive case should start.
Further, MEC wants the court to restrain the petitioners from “threatening presiding officers or any electoral staff, whether permanent or temporary; Assaulting any Electoral Commission staff; Unlawfully seizing any Electoral Commission property; and, An order compelling the second petitioner (Chakwera) to withdraw a malicious and false statement that he published through Malawi Congress Party publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali alleging that the second respondent is falsifying election results and calling the public to arrest Electoral Commission staff”.
In the skeletal arguments filed at the High Court of Malawi Lilongwe Registry on Friday, MEC said it needs the extra 14 days to finish soliciting information from district commissioners (DCs) and presiding officers.
The electoral body argues that its officials had inadequate time due to interference with the recording of data in some districts and delay following the planning and inspection of documents at the warehouse under the custody of the Clerk of Parliament.
MEC’s court applications comes against a background of the electoral body suspending meetings its staff and lawyers were having with presiding officers to collect information.
MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said in an interview on Wednesday that the process was suspended due to security concerns for its staff and lawyers.
He said: “Due to the unconducive atmosphere that has been characterised with animosity and violent behavior towards our staff and lawyers, the commission has decided to halt this exercise.
“We are no longer going to the councils to collect any affidavits or witness statements for our case.”
Reacting to the MEC application filed by private practice lawyer Tamando Chokotho, Chakwera’s lead lawyer Titus Mvalo and Khumbo Soko of Chilima’s legal team said the application was baseless because the commission was given enough time to file statements.
Mvalo said they will challenge the application in court this afternoon.
He said: “We are opposing the application. I cannot give full details of the arguments we are going to present. They are applying for the extension of time and at the same time they are applying for an injunction. We will make our arguments in court.”
Soko also said they will argue against the application and injunction sought because they believe MEC was given enough time to file the needed documents.
He said granting MEC more time for soliciting information will mean delaying trial of the case as the date that was set for full hearing may be shifted to a later date in August or beyond.
Said Soko: “We do think that there has been adequate time for them to put their responses together. Seeking for more time will delay trial.”
Chokotho refused to comment on the application when contacted yesterday.
During the last scheduling conference, MEC sought a maximum of two weeks for soliciting and submission of information on the same. But the court gave the electoral commission a maximum of 11 days.
In the case, Chilima and Chakwera are seeking nullification of presidential election results over alleged irregularities. MEC declared Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) the winner of the presidential race with 1 940 709 votes or 38.57 percent. The results showed that he was trailed by Chakwera with 1 781 740 votes or 35.41 percent while Chilima came third with 1 018 369 votes or 20.24 percent ahead of four other presidential candidates.