Three months after asking political leaders and other stakeholders to stop post-election tension, Malawi Law Society (MLS) has written President Peter Mutharika and opposition politicians, that the political impasse can degenerate into more chaos if no decisive action is taken.
In a letter dated October 20 2019 co-signed by the society’s president Burton Mhango and honorary secretary Martha Kaukonde, MLS appeals to Mutharika, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera and UTM Party leader Saulos Chilima to carefully consider long-term legal consequences of their inaction or failure to take control of their followers and the level of their possible personal responsibility should the nation descend into violent chaos, damage and injury.
In the letter also addressed to Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara, embattled Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), MLS generally observes that lack of political will across the political divide is worsening the situation because the main players are seemingly watching their followers take the law into their own hands without caution.
Reads the letter: “We call upon all the political leaders and addressees to our letter of 12th July 2019 to carefully consider and receive proper advice on the long term legal consequences of their inaction or failure to take control of their followers and the level of their possible personal responsibility should the nation descend into more violent chaos, damage and injury in the event of their followers failing to accept either outcome or any case management processes that may follow from the outcome of Constitutional Cause No. 1 of 2019 at the High Court Lilongwe District Registry.”
The Law Society’s fresh appeal comes weeks after the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) warned that the post-May 21 Tripartite Elections impasse could spiral out of control if government and other relevant actors do not urgently engage in a genuine and meaningful dialogue.
MLS says that unless decisive intervention is engaged, the current political impasse is set to continue and risks disregard of the rule of law and the constitutional order.
Further reads the statement: “MLS considers that but for lack of political will across the political divide, the impasse and disruptive violence is quite manageable under the law.
“However, if not managed it may degenerate into more chaos and unrest which could affect more vulnerable members of the public such as children and the elderly if duty bearers fail to genuinely anticipate and prepare the people and the legal framework for the possibility of either outcome from the Constitutional Court challenge.”
Mutharika, who has in all public appearances taunted the opposition that he beat them clean in the presidential race on May 21, has been cautioned to conduct himself in a manner that reflects desire to build a united nation.
In a direct address to the President, MLS says: “We call upon the President to exercise his executive authority in the interest of national unity and must not pander or succumb to regional politics or any form of politics as the Constitution locates the presidency within the national as opposed to regional or political party scheme.”
To Chilima and Chakwera, who are co-petitioners in a petition asking the Constitutional Court to nullify presidential election results, MLS advises them not to pander or succumb to political evaluation of every national programme or activity.
The duo has also been called to ensure that their public reaction to events in the country reflects a desire to build a united nation as opposed to a desire to seek mere political authority and public office for its own sake.
To the public and HRDC, MLS says while freely and peacefully pursuing rights and freedoms under the Constitution, they should desist from the tendency and temptation to assume legal correctness of their perspective on any electoral issues.
Reacting to the MLS fresh appeal, Mutharika, speaking through presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani, said the matters require a professional and sober engagement among stakeholders.
He said it was comforting to hear from the MLS that it recognises the shortfalls in constitutionalism and political governance.
Kalilani, who is with the President in Sochi, Russia for the first Russia-Africa Summit, said while sentiments by MLS remain opinions and the society is perfectly entitled to them, the President would address the issues raised once the communication reaches him.
On his part, Chakwera, who also said he was yet to get the MLS communication, said he has always asked people to closely follow the court proceedings and accept its verdict.
He said: “I have always been advising people to respect the courts.
“Somebody asked me on whether we are talking and I said ‘this is what I have been saying that the reason I have supported efforts by the Public Affairs Committee [PAC], for example, and others who also want to beef up what PAC is doing’. Whatever level we have been talking, I am still ready to keep talking.”
Chilima said he would not comment on the MLS statement, a position echoed by his party’s spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga who, however, said UTM Party has condemned violence and is “always open for genuine dialogue”.
Malawi Police Service, which has publicly admitted capacity challenges to guarantee and assure the public of safety during such demonstrations, said it was yet to receive the letter.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said when they get the official MLS letter they will decide whether to respond.
HRDC has since welcomed the statement from MLS, especially on the need for stakeholders to respect the tenets of constitutionalism for the sake of peace.
But while welcoming the MLS communication, HRDC acting national chairperson Luke Tembo faulted the Law Society for allegedly shielding the police for their failure to bring to book perpetrators of violence against human rights defenders.
PAC is already facilitating a dialogue process to find a lasting solution to the impasse and has met key stakeholders, including Mutharika, Chakwera, Chilima, Ansah and HRDC.
Former president Bakili Muluzi also tried to bring the leaders to the table, but his attempts failed.