Newly formed United Transformation Movement (UTM) has turned to the courts to challenge the Registrar of Political Parties’ rejection of its application to register as a party.
UTM spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga said in a statement last evening that the movement disagrees with the registrar’s decision to throw out its application on the basis that the grouping flouted the law by seeking to register using its abbreviation UTM instead of the full name ‘United Transformation Movement’.
He said the movement—which is led by the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima who broke ranks with the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and declared he will challenge President Peter Mutharika in the presidential race in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections—has instructed its legal team to file a challenge because the party was not given a chance to be heard.
Despite the registration hiccup, Malunga assured the movement’s following that its “shared goal and common purpose of ensuring that our government is run for the benefit of Malawi and not for the governors alone remains undisturbed and on course”.
In a letter to UTM following its application, Deputy Registrar of Political Parties Chikumbutso Namelo alleged that the use of the abbreviation instead of the full name was a deliberate scheme to mislead the registrar because there is another registered political party with a similar sounding name.
The deputy registrar was apparently referring to United Transformation Party (UTP) registered by businessperson Newton Kambala who earlier announced his partnership with UTM at the movement’s rallies but has not committed to deregistering his party.
In an interview with our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation, Kambala said: “The arrangement has been that UTM is a rebrand of UTP.”
In the letter dated September 21 2018 addressed to Ritz Attorneys, the law firm representing UTM, Namelo said he would have made a decision not to register the party using Section 7(b)(ii) because it would resemble a name of a registered party.
Reads the letter: “As misleading the registrar of Political Parties in order to obtain the registration of a party is an offence under the Act and, therefore unlawful, I am satisfied and it is my decision that this application is not in conformity with the Act in terms of Section 7 (1)(a) and on that ground I refuse the registration of UTM as a party under the Act.”
The referred to Section 7(b)(ii) of the old Political Parties Act as amended in 1996 states that the registrar may refuse to register a political party if he is satisfied that the name “so nearly resembles the name of a registered political party or a political party whose registration has been cancelled”.
Namelo further wrote: “It is my view that the decision to present registration documents in the name of UTM and not full name, United Transformation Movement, from which the abbreviation UTM derives, was wilfully intended to mislead the Registrar of Political Parties for the purposes of registration of the party.”
He has since warned that furnishing false or misleading information or submitting a document which an applicant knows to be misleading or false is an offence under the Act.
Section 18(a)(i) of the Act states that any person who furnishes any false or misleading information “is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of K2 000 and imprisonment for 12 months”.
Chilima officially launched UTM at Masintha Ground in Lilongwe on July 21 and the movement has since been criss-crossing the country canvassing for support.
But the registrar has warned the movement that electioneering when it is not registered is an offence under the Political Parties Act. The offence is liable to a fine of K2 000.
Electioneering, according to the Section 17 of the Political Parties Act, is not allowed unless a political party or “combination of persons” is registered.
But UTM has vowed to continue its mobilisation ahead of the election as they sort out the registration issues.
UTM interim secretary general Patricia Kaliati said in an earlier interview the movement would respect the registrar’s decision and respond within the given 21 days.
She said the party would proceed with the convention slated for November 9 2018.
Political analyst Augustine Magolowondo said from the letter, the matter was more legal than political in nature and would require a legal opinion to clarify.
He said people would benefit more from any appeal that UTM might lodge with the Registrar of Political Parties.
This is not the first time that a new political party challenging the status quo of a governing party has been in trouble with the Registrar of Political Parties.
In 2003, some elements within the then governing United Democratic Front (UDF) unsuccessfully thwarted attempts by Brown Mpinganjira to register his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) when they registered a political party in the same name then later changed it to New Dawn for Africa in another attempt to stop the registration after the High Court intervened.
In 2011, People’s Party (PP) started by the country’s then Vice-President Joyce Banda also had trouble registering the party when the Registrar of Political Parties rejected the application on the grounds that the abbreviation was too similar to that of People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) and Maravi People’s Party (MPP). n