The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) says it will not hold by-elections in Lilongwe South East Constituency soon due to lack of citizens’ goodwill towards the electoral body and its staff.
Parliamentary elections did not take place on May 21 in the constituency following the death of a UTM Party candidate Agnes Penemulungu in April this year, and the Malawi Electoral Laws give MEC 60 days to organise by-elections in an area after declaration of a vacant seat.
MEC director of media and public relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa in a written response yesterday said although the electoral body was willing to conduct the polls, the political tension does not allow it to fulfill its obligation.
He said: “MEC was geared to hold the by-elections immediately after the [May 21] Tripartite Elections. The delay is not related to the presidential elections case but circumstances at the moment do not allow the holding of by-elections.
“The environment is not conducive. As you know there is a lot of animosity and intimidation towards MEC staff. MEC is watching the situation and as soon as it normalises, we will announce the dates. Otherwise, we are deeply concerned that the area has no parliamentarian.”
Mwafulirwa referred to cases in Kasungu and other districts where MEC staff were attacked by people protesting results of the May 21 presidential election.
Section 31(b) of Malawi Electoral Laws stipulates that: “Any by-election to fill a vacancy that occurs shall be held within 60 days after the seat of the member becomes vacant or, if in the opinion of the Speaker the circumstances do not admit, then expeditiously as possible after the expiry of that period. “
There have been nationwide demonstrations led by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) to force MEC chairperson Jane Ansah to resign for presiding over an allegedly flawed presidential election.
Ansah has dismissed calls to step down, and President Peter Mutharika has equally been mum on calls to fire Ansah, a move that has infuriated the human rights activists to continue holding demonstrations.
When we sought presidential spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani’s views on why President Mutharika was still maintaining Ansah at the expense of MEC’s ability to execute its duties, he refused to comment.
But National Assembly spokesperson Leonard Mengezi in a telephone interview on Tuesday said although there is a parliamentary vacancy to be filled, Parliament had no powers to force MEC to conduct by-elections.
“MEC is the only body mandated by law to conduct elections in the country. Unfortunately, Parliament cannot come in on this. Our mandate starts when we receive names of winners from MEC. At this stage, it is only the constituents who can demand that right from MEC. But we cannot say much because it is not our area,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chancellor College-based political commentator Ernest Thindwa said while MEC’s action was not justified, it was understandable considering the current circumstances.
He said: “What we should be looking at is that if we had a leader who puts the welfare of this country at heart, he would have moved to end all this. But instead of dealing with the source of the current problem which is Ansah’s role in the elections, the government is busy trying to stop demonstrations.”
During a National Elections Consultative Forum meeting on May 6 2019, MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika announced that parliamentary elections would not be held in the constituency following Penemulungu’s death.