- Critics say current commissioners have no credibility to prepare for fresh poll
Jane Ansah’s announcement that the incompetent Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) she leads has started preparations for the fresh presidential election has attracted the wrath of critics, who argue that the current crop of commissioners do not have the sustained trust of the people.
A professor of law at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College Garton Kamchedzera said in an interview on Monday that the Constitution requires MEC commissioners to hold their positions on trust, credibility and good governance.
He said: “The commission does not understand and pay regards to what the Constitution requires because if you look at Section 12, it says those that exercise powers related to the State can only sustain such powers on the basis of sustained trust.
“To continue exercising that, therefore, you need to sustain that trust. This set of commissioners is either so oblivious or they don’t care whether people have trust in them or not, which is a big problem.”
In its ruling on February 3 2020, the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) found gross incompetence in the commissioners’ management of the annulled May 2019 presidential election results.
The court, therefore, ordered Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (PAC) to further evaluate the commissioners’ performance and make appropriate recommendations to President Peter Mutharika.
PAC, upon assessment, recommended that the President fires the commissioners and replace them with a new set ahead of the fresh presidential poll that the National Assembly has proposed be held on May 19 2020.
Kamchedzera also faulted the current commission for failing to connect the issue of trust with the election’s credibility, emphasising that elections managed by commissioners that people have lost trust in will have questionable credibility.
Meanwhile, governance expert Henry Chingaipe and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) national coordinator Boniface Chibwana have also questioned the credibility of the current MEC to manage the forthcoming fresh election in light of its official position that it will not apply the 50 Percent+One system to determine the winner.
In an interview on Monday, Chingaipe expressed concern that good governance of the elections will not be achieved partly because of MEC’s decision not to apply the 50 Percent+One system and because the entire commission, which is still clinging to power, was rendered “grossly incompetent” to manage polls.
He said: “The Constitutional Court found that the current MEC and the chief elections officer were grossly incompetent to manage elections. I don’t see whether people found to be grossly incompetent can be expected to run the election and be trusted to manage the process well.
“I don’t think the aspect of good governance will be achieved as far as the current group of commissioners will run the election. The current group is against the Rule of Law. They filed a stay order and it was thrown out. The commission and the chairperson are resisting the rule of law.”
While acknowledging that political parties have since the court ruling formed electoral alliances in preparation for the fresh election, Chibwana, whose organisation monitors how elections are governed, argued that the court provided a clear direction on what direction MEC should take as far as the fresh election is concerned.
During a National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting on Friday, MEC chairperson Jane Ansah said the commission will follow the First-Past-The-Post system in the next presidential election.
She also said the electoral body has recruited Biometric Voter Registration Kit (BVRK) technicians and operators and that recruitment of registration staff to carry out registration of voters is being done. Mobilisation of vehicles, Ansah said, is also in progress, among other preparatory steps taken.
But when contacted on Monday to clarify on why MEC is seemingly defying the court and PAC’s recommendation, Ansah gave a brief response before cutting the line.
She said: “Inuyo a Nation [you Nation reporter] get it straight. I said I had a Necof meeting and I explained everything. Now between Friday and now I have got nothing to say, just go back to the Necof meeting. I don’t see why I should be giving you special treatment. Zikomo [thank you].”
In the judgment that was delivered on February 3, five High Court judges sitting as the Constitutional Court made it clear that even if there were no irregularities in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, the court would still have nullified the election on the basis that the leader was not elected by the majority as provided for in the constitution of the Republic of Malawi.
With reference to the authoritative dictionaries, the court interpreted the term ‘majority’ as 50%+1 vote, which somebody should get in the election if he or she is to be declared a winner of the presidential seat.
Presidential spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani said in an interview that President Mutharika will come out with his position on the commissioners by the end this week.
He said: “People should expect to hear from the President by the end of this week. The powers covering this area are discretionary, as such the President will handle the matter at his discretion.”
In an earlier interview, Kamchedzera said if the President and MEC do not respect the court order, petitioners can seek a judicial review on the matters and that the commission may be in contempt of court for not respecting the order.
Although MEC has started the election preparations, holding of the fresh poll will depend on the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal ruling on the appeal, which MEC filed requesting the court to uphold the May 21 2019 presidential election and results.
Last month, an Afrobarometer survey showed that most Malawians do not trust MEC and believe that the quality of elections has declined following events surrounding the nullified May 21 presidential poll.