Some addressees of the Malawi Law Society (MLS) letter expressing reservations on the conduct of electoral stakeholders in the aftermath of the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections have given a muted response reflecting caution.
In its letter dated July 12 2019 under the subject Management of Electoral Complaints and Determination of Electoral Complaints and Determination of Electoral Results Concerning Presidential Elections 2019 addressed to politicians, including President Peter Mutharika, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), the lawyers’ body advised political leaders to spend energy on preparing their members on the outcome of the case instead of continuing to conduct public rallies when the electoral dispute matter is before the courts.
Further, MLS also asks embattled MEC chairperson Jane Ansah to “deeply reflect on the value of remaining in office” while her stay in that office seems to be a cause for social disruption and political unrest.
The letter, which has HRDC leaders Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence among the eight addressees, also challenges the activists demanding Ansah’s resignation to “deeply reflect on the value of such demonstrations” when the substance of the subject matter remains a legal dispute being managed through the courts.
In an interview yesterday, MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said Ansah will give her response directly to MLS.
Ansah, a Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal Judge accused of presiding over an alleged fraudulent election, is on record as having said she will only step down if her commission’s decisions are found wanting in the on-going case seeking nullification of the presidential election results.
Presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani said he would revert with a response after consulting the President. However, at the time of going to press around 8pm he had not responded.
In an interview yesterday, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera, one of the eight addresses and a petitioner in the elections case, acknowledged receipt of the letter, but said he was yet to make sense out of it.
He said: “I will probably look at it this evening and I will have to seek legal opinion from our lawyers before we make any comments. That will probably be tomorrow [today].”
UTM Party president Saulos Chilima, who served as the country’s vice-president between May 2014 and May 2019 and finished third in the presidential race according to MEC results, also confirmed receiving the letter, but declined to make any comment, referring questions to party spokesperson Joseph Chidanti-Malunga who said they were not ready to make an immediate reaction to the letter.
HRDC also said it was preparing a statement in reaction to the letter.
In an interview, Public Affairs Committee (PAC) chairperson the Reverend Felix Chingota stressed the need for Ansah to resign based on loss of public trust as the major reason.
He said the Constitution plainly states that all public officers hold their offices on trust; hence, when that trust is eroded the position becomes untenable.
Said Chingota: “In the current situation, are those that delegated powers now withdrawing their trust? If the answer is yes, then the position of the MEC chairperson is untenable. It’s a constitutional matter.”
But political analyst Nandini Patel, an accomplished academic who has extensively researched and published on elections and democracy, dismissed calls for Ansah to resign, saying the proponents of such arguments have no legal basis.
She said: “I don’t buy that argument. I don’t think that the explanation is good enough for Dr Ansah to resign. How do they define or measure public trust?
“Have they done a survey or are they just going by the views of the opposition and some CSOs that are demonstrating? If they said the MEC chairperson had violated some law, I would have agreed with their argument.”
MLS also noted that while political parties have a right to assemble and disseminate information and indeed raise governance issues with any public offices, it considered it the duty and responsibility of political leaders not to undermine the credibility of the legal processes engaged by them to address the presidential election disputes.
“Instead, we consider it the responsibility of the political leaders to use such opportunities to warn their members of the possibility of either outcome at the court, and the need to manage either outcome in accordance with the constitutional duty…” reads the statement.
The Law Society said it was also concerned with threats and attacks directed at some lawyers in the course of their handling their client’s instructions in the electoral dispute, and this was in reference to lawyers from MEC that were reportedly attacked in the course of collecting evidence for the case.
“The Law Society has also noted that in the course of conducting the election matter at the High Court Lilongwe two of the judges had their official vehicles damaged by angry mob while the Judges were on the way to court on one occasion,” partly reads the letter.
The independence of the Judiciary and the legal profession as a whole, the lawyers said, is critical to a fair disposal of any legal dispute to be decided by the courts.
“The Law Society, therefore, calls upon you as the political leaders and the parties to the dispute to avoid inciting any form of violence or undue influence against any members of judiciary or any member of the legal profession for their role in the conduct of the electoral petitions before the courts,” pleaded the lawyers’ body.
A five-judge panel of the High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court is on July 29 set to start hearing a petition filed by Chilima and Chakwera seeking nullification of the presidential election results over alleged irregularities, especially in the result management system.
On the other hand, HRDC continues to organise a series of protests to force Ansah, a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, and her commissioners to resign for presiding over a flawed election.