Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has said it is not ready to hold fresh presidential elections on May 19 2020 as proposed by Parliament.
MEC chairperson Jane Ansah told delegates to the National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting in Blantyre on Friday the electoral body would stick to the existing laws which would not enable holding the polls on May 19.
Among others, Ansah told delegates from different political parties, civil society organisations, religious groups, academia, the commission’s registration kits can only work in six phases of 14 days each as set out by the law.
This means that the registration exercise can only take place in a minimum of 84 days while there are only 62 days before May 19.
If the commission was to start the exercise today, it would conclude voters’ registration exercise on June 5 2020 for all the six phases.
Said Ansah: “The law provides that registration will be done for a minimum of 14 days. Since that is the law, we cannot do otherwise but do the registration in 14 days but we have a limited number of equipment and that will allow us to have six phases.”
She, however, assured delegates that MEC would respect the Constitutional Court ruling to hold the fresh presidential elections within 150 days from February 3 as the court directed.
Ansah, who is also a Supreme Court of Appeal judge, said in the fresh election, MEC would use the existing laws that it used in 2019 meaning that it will use the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system to determine the winner and not 50 percent plus one vote rule as directed by the Constitutional Court.
This, she said, was because the bills that Parliament amended were yet to be assented to by President Peter Mutharika.
Further, Ansah said the 50 percent plus one rule will not be applicable because it was an interpretation of a lower court (High Court) arguing the Supreme Court of Appeal already ruled during the 1999 elections on what majority votes meant.
Said Ansah: “As we are today, the law that is applicable and the law that the commission can use to go ahead with fresh elections is the law that was there in 2019 because the amendments that were made to the electoral laws have not yet been assented to.
“There is also a Supreme Court interpretation of Section 80 (2) and according to practice, the Supreme Court Judgement is more binding than the High Court judgement. So the commission does not have a clear way forward on what law to apply and what should be done. [But] the law that is there today is the law which we will use.”
During the meeting Malawi Congress Party (MCP) publicity secretary Maurice Munthali also sought clarification from MEC on why it hired lawyers from South Africa.
But in her defence, Ansah said all local lawyers declined to represent the body and as such it had no choice but to source elsewhere.
During the meeting, civil society organisations like the Church and Society of Livingstonia Synod of CCAP and opposition political parties took turns telling the MEC commissioners not to manage the forthcoming elections because they did not have the trust of the people.
They also reminded the commissioners that the Public Appointment Committee of Parliament recommended to President Peter Mutharika to fire them for incompetence and lacking capacity to organise elections.
But in her response Ansah said: “Is there any mad person here? Do you know the meaning of incapability?”
Her response angered the opposition forcing UTM Party director of publicity Joseph Chidanti Malunga to censure her. He described her response as “arrogant”.
“Don’t display your arrogance when answering questions madam chair,” said Malunga.
In an interview after the meeting both Munthali and Malunga insisted they have no trust in the commission and must not continue doing anything in relation to the elections.
Munthali said MEC was making deliberate and unnecessary delays instead of respecting the Constitutional Court determination.
“We know they are deliberately buying time for no reason,” said Munthali.
But on his part, DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi said as a party, they felt MEC commissioners must carry on and make the necessary preparations for the fresh elections.
“MEC’s convening of this Necof meeting is a good initiative because in any negotiation there must be compromise and consensus building,” he said.