Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has until Thursday to know the fate of its application seeking a 14-day extension to file sworn affidavits in the presidential election nullification petition case on grounds that petitioners interfered with its exercise.
In its application heard by the five-judge Constitutional Court panel in Lilongwe on Monday, 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.
At the end of a three-hour session on Monday, the court, which set July 29 this year as the date when hearing of the substantive case should start, said it will deliver its decision this Thursday and effectively provide direction on how the case will proceed.
During the hearing, lawyers for both the petitioners and respondents tussled, but, at the same time both sides and the judges could afford lighter moments on several occasions.
Presenting his case, MEC lawyer Tamando Chokotho said the electoral body’s officers met a hostile reception in Kasungu where they went to solicit information to be filed as sworn in statements as earlier directed by the court.
He said the development interfered with the process of gathering information; hence, the need for an extension by 14 days.
But in his response, Senior Counsel Modecai Msisha, who is representing Chakwera, told the court that the affidavits MEC presented were not indicating anywhere within clauses that people in Kasungu acted under instructions of MCP publicity secretary Reverend Maurice Munthali as alleged.
Thus, he argued against both the sought extension and injunction.
On security for MEC officials, Msisha said the court should look at the balance of justice not only on the inconveniences officials met but also what fuelled violence.
Presenting their arguments as friends of the court, Malawi Law Society representative Powell Nkhutabasa reasoned with the court that there is need to address security concerns MEC is raising so that anybody involved in the case should not face hurdles while on their duty of soliciting pertinent information.
But he agreed with Msisha that lack of transparency in the manner which MEC handled themselves raised suspicions, saying that the commission should have stated clearly from the beginning on the work it was going to do.
On her part, Bernedette Malunga, representing Women Lawyers Association, another friend of the court, said the elections case is a matter in the public interest; hence, the need for MEC to handle the processes quickly.
In an interview later, Msisha feared the MEC application, if successful, would affect the commencement date of the case.
Outside the courtroom, there was heavy security, comprising police and Malawi Defence Force (MDF) personnel.