Hon. Folks, two things today! One, Malawi faces a constitutional crisis after government fired Linda Kunje and Jean Mathanga as Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) commissioners. Two, not all is rosy in the drama-filled Tonse administration.
Since the Tonse alliance government won the June 23 2020 fresh presidential election, few Malawians can pin down its tangible development. Instead, confusion and indecision is what many are able to write about this administration so far.
In the 298 days of the Tonse rule Malawians have witnessed dramatic events that have shocked or surprised many citizens to a point that they have a lot to say.
Tuesday’s decision by the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) to rescind former president Peter Mutharika’s appointment of Jean Mathanga and Linda Kunje as Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) commissioners is the latest episode.
In his communication, Secretary to the President and Cabinet Zangazanga Chikhosi said the rescission was on the basis that the two DPP commissioners “were adjudged incompetent by the Supreme Court of Appeal” on May 8 2020 during the hearing of the nullified 2019 presidential election.
But the dismissals opened a can of worms as DPP threatened to move the court to nullify President Lazarus Chakwera’s June 23 2020 victory on the basis that the poll was conducted by an ‘incompetent’ commission.
Scores of legal minds and social media fanatics have also crammed social media trying to extrapolate the merits and demerits of the contents in Chikhosi’s letter which has forced MEC to suspend its operations in accordance with Section 75 (1) of the Constitution which deals with composition of the Commission.
In his advice to MEC this week, Attorney General Chikosa Silungwe argued that the remaining cohort of commissioners (four) should not discharge any duty or power of the Electoral Commission under the Constitution or an Act of Parliament until Section 75 (1) of the Constitution has been complied with. The current cohort is now two commissioners less.
Interestingly, this is not the first time Silungwe—in his official capacity as the main legal advisor to the government—has advised OPC against firing the two commissioners.
On August 20 2020, Chikhosi sought legal advice from the AG on the legality of the appointment of the two after the Public Appointments Committee (PAC) of Parliament recommended their dismissal for incompetence, whether government was bound to comply with their reappointment and whether there was any other legal remedy in dealing with the matter. But Silungwe advised him to issue appointment letters to the two, arguing that they were now part of a reconstituted Electoral Commission, not the previous one that was widely condemned for administering ‘Tippex’ May 2019 general elections won by former president Peter Mutharika of DPP.
According to Silungwe, this was a “neater and mature political pragmatism”. In his opinion, PAC’s recommendation was already acted upon by Mutharika and the same cannot be acted upon by Chakwera.
But OPC threw Silungwe’s advice in the dustbin, a move that was not surprising because Chakwera vowed on his appearance in Parliament on September 10 2020 that he would not send letters of appointment to the two embattled commissioners because they were found to be incompetent by PAC and the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Now, all the drama, confusion and embarrassment happening in the Tonse administration now should not be mistaken for one of those things that happen accidentally. It appears egos are at play between the AG (who probably feels his office is not respected) and OPC which is likely following Chakwera’s position.
Again, Chakwera—who promised to respect the rule of law during his pre-election campaign alongside Vice-President Saulos Chilima— seems to be between a rock and a hard place as his party MCP appears to have taken a ‘no going back’ stance against the two commissioners for some reason best known to them.
Ironically, during his campaigns, Chakwera convinced Malawians that his ‘New Malawi’ will discard the dirty politics of vengeance and reprisals which characterised all previous regimes. This is probably the reason someone said the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Nevertheless, this confusion between OPC and the AG’s office is healthy for our democracy because (while OPC and MCP may have good reasons for wanting Kunje and Mathanga out of MEC) Silungwe is offering some good ‘checks’ on Chakwera’s government by validating the true sense of Tonse philosophy.