- Substantive matter hearing July 29
- Petitioners go after MEC staff, ballots
Proceedings in a case where two petitioners want presidential poll results in the May 21 Tripartite Elections nullified over alleged irregularities heated up on Wednesday before a five-judge panel of the Constitutional Court ahead of a full hearing which has been scheduled to start on July 29.
Lawyers representing the two petitioners—Saulos Chilima of UTM Party and Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP)—asked the court to order the second respondent, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), to release bank details of its staff amid allegations that some officials at the electoral body were bribed.
The petitioners also want the electoral body to surrender all election-related materials and documents which could be used as evidence in court or used in the event of the court ordering a recount of the votes.
Senior Counsel Modecai Msisha, who is the lead counsel for Chakwera, said in an interview outside the court that they made a broad application for disclosures by MEC to safeguard evidence, specifically on the bank accounts to ascertain that MEC officials did not receive any bribes.
He said: “The disclosure application is not exclusive about bank accounts. We want the result sheets and tally centre details as well.
“For the bank accounts, we want to know whether any MEC officials had unusual inflows in their accounts that could not be explained. The court will rule tomorrow [today] at 3.30 pm.”
The fresh disclosure application follows an earlier plea to the same court to order the electoral body against removing or altering election documents such as election results on its website.
Msisha also said his client has amended his petition to make it consistent on the remedies sought.
On the time frame, he said the court has directed that parties to the case should exchange or serve each other relevant documents, including responses, before the set date of July 29 when hearing of the substantive matter is set to start.
In a separate interview, lawyer Frank Mbeta, the lead counsel for the first respondent President Peter Mutharika, said they did not object to the fresh applications by the petitioners because the issues at hand mostly concerned MEC.
He said his legal team only asked the court to accept applications that are reasonable.
Said Mbeta: “There were several applications. We started with the Times and Zodiak [Broadcasting Station] application and the court ruled that they can only do live broadcast on radio when the trial begins.
“Then we had to deal with application by Dr Chakwera to amend their petition and amendments by Dr Chilima to file sworn affidavits out of time.”
He said while amendments are acceptable for the sake of clarity, Mutharika’s legal team maintains Chakwera has filed the amendment under a wrong constitutional provision; hence, its plea to court to dismiss the application for amendment.
Mbeta also observed that demands for disclosure such as bank statements for MEC employees were not appropriately filed.
The scheduling conference, presided over by the five-judge panel comprising Healey Potani, Dingiswayo Madise, Ivy Kamanga, Redson Kapindu and Mike Tembo, is being held in chamber with the media not allowed.
on Wednesday’s hearing followed last Friday’s ruling in favour of the petitioners on preliminary applications by Mutharika to have the case thrown out on technicalities. However, the court upheld the petition.
Mutharika and MEC have since filed an appeal in the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, but the High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court ruled that the respondents can proceed with the appeal while the substantive matter proceeds.
In an interview on Wednesday, Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale, who is representing MEC in the matter, on Wednesday said there was legal precedence for a case to be heard simultaneously at the High Court and Supreme Court; hence, the court’s decision to allow the move.
The hearing on Wednesday took place amid continued tension and violence in Lilongwe, an opposition stronghold. However, Chakwera and Chilima were not present on Wednesday.
After the court adjourned around midday, MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka, who addressed party supporters outside the court fence alongside UTM spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga, ordered the followers not to attend the court session in the afternoon.
The situation remains tense in Lilongwe and the presiding judges were escorted by Malawi Defence Force (MDF) while scores of soldiers and several armoured vehicles were stationed outside the court.