Ministry of Health Principal Secretary (PS) Dan Namarika has warned the country against proceeding with the July 2 fresh presidential election amid the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Speaking in Blantyre yesterday on the sidelines of a handover of a K10 million donation from Malawi Gaming and Lotteries Board to the ministry to beef up the K130 billion Covid-19 budget; the PS said the move will put Malawi at a huge risk.
Namarika said: “The electoral process requires mobilising people while the pandemic requires social distancing. These are two things that cannot go together and people are afraid of the coronavirus hence they will not come to participate and there will be voter apathy.
“I am not sure whether anyone would like to have a second election in a year where there is huge voter apathy because people are afraid of contracting the coronavirus.”
He said the country should also look at issues of resources since basically it is the same sectors required to oversee the running of a credible election that will also be critical in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Namarika said his ministry by Monday had handled 141 samples and by yesterday eight cases were confirmed as positive. One of the cases died yesterday in Blantyre.
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) director of media and public relations Sangwani Mwafuriwa said the electoral body will make a statement in due course on the elections and Covid-19.
Reacting to the sentiments, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali said the issue of elections and Covid-19 crisis is big; hence, cannot be answered hurriedly.
“We appreciate the magnitude of the pandemic and also holding of elections as a right. While we are dealing with the pandemic let us also look at the whims of the people. The elections are a result of a court order,” he said.
On his part, UTM Party spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga said his party will make its position on the matter at an appropriate time.
Democratic Progressive Party spokesperson Nicholas Dausi refused to comment on the issue when contacted, saying it is wrong to drag the governing party into the coronavirus issue because it is not a political issue.
But University of Malawi’s Chancellor College dean of law Sunduzwayo Madise said if the threat is indeed huge, MEC should go to court and ask for a time freeze within the period that the court ordered them to conduct the elections.
He said it is advisable for the commission to act swiftly to avoid any ambiguities in the end.
But Madise said no institution, including the Special Cabinet Task Committee on Covid-19, has the mandate to order the poll’s suspension because they are taking place under a court order.
Malawians are scheduled to vote in a fresh presidential election on July 2 after a five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election over alleged irregularities, especially in the results management system.
The country’s estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima—who is also UTM Party president—and MCP president Lazarus Chakwera petitioned the court to nullify the presidential election. The court delivered its ruling on February 3 this year.
Respondents in the case—MEC and President Peter Mutharika—have appealed against the judgement and the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal is expected to hear the matter from April 15.
Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Chipiliro Masanjala said it is difficult for the ministry to comment on the matter because the issue is sensitive.
The court ordered a fresh election within 150 days of its ruling.