21 April 2017

Malawi Electoral Commission Accused of Thwarting Democracy, Disenfranchising People

Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has come under heavy critic for its decision to indefinitely postpone by-elections initially set for June 6 with the press saying the decision is 'thwarting democracy' as analysts argue that the move disenfranchises people in the affected wards and constituents who have no one to represent their interest.

MEC says it has called off the by-elections in Lilongwe City South East and Lilongwe Msozi North constituencies , Mayani North Ward in Dedza North constituency and Mtsiliza Ward in Lilongwe City West constituency due to lack of funds.

According to MEC chairperson Jane Ansah the by-elections budget is estimated at K400 million and their source of funding is Treasury.

Secretary to the Treasury Ben Botolo says the funds were available but have been diverted to other activities and that new funding will come in the next budget set to roll out on July 1.

The decision to postpone the by-elections has attracted an editorial comment in an influential daily newspaper, The Nation titled 'By-elections call off thwarting democracy' and Malawi's flagship daily newspaper, The Daily Times .

The paper said whatever the justification for the postponement of the polls, one thing remains clear that people in the affected areas are being "disenfranchised."

It said the people's right to have representative in Parliament or local council is being infringed upon.

The comment further notes that speculation that, infact authorities are not keen to fund the by-elections because the concerned areas are widely regarded strongholds of the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP). It said such speculation "cannot be out rightly dismissed."

Reads the editorial comment in part: "But then, at the end of the day, it is the people in the areas who will suffer because of lack of representation. It is not the politicians, but the people who will be denied their right to representation in the same way grass suffers when two elephants fight."

Daily Times comment titled 'No honesty in postponing elections' , also argued along the same lines in their editorial comment.

"To begin with, the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has never wanted the seats to be occupied by members of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). When MCP's Ulemu Msungama demanded a vote recount in Lilongwe City South East Constituency, the DPP government and Mec developed cold feet. Later, a warehouse that had the disputed ballot papers was gutted by a mysterious fire. What baffled many was that the first people to arrive at the scene of the fire were senior officials from the government spy agency, the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB).

"Investigations into the incident yielded nothing and Mec proceeded to conduct its affairs as if nothing serious had happened.hen the DPP, through its candidate Bentley Namasasu, vehemently challenged Msungama's court bid, to the point of appealing a High Court ruling that favoured Msungama.

"Even after the Supreme Court granted Msungama his wish, Mec came with theories that did not exist in the statutes. It threw so many spanners in efforts to conduct a re-run in the constituency. Probably sensing government and Mec intentions to scuttle the elections, the MCP gave in to Mec's machinations. With no more tricks up its sleeve, Mec announced dates for the polls and rolled out a calendar of events, only to make a u-turn at the launch of the polls," reads Times comment.

In quotes reported by The Nation newspaper, an associate professor of law at Chancellor College, Edge Kanyongolo, said the affected parties have the right to seek legal redress on the issue as stipulated in the Constitution.

"The Constitution in Section 41 gives every person the right to seek judicial remedy whenever their right or legitimate expectations are affected.

"Therefore, the immediate remedy I can think of is an application for a judicial review asking the High Court to review the Malawi Electoral Commission's decision to postpone the by-election," Kanyongolo is quoted saying.

Rights activist Rafiq Hajat, executive director for the Institute of Policy Interaction (IPI), told the paper that the government is ruling by virtue of the Constitution and if it starts complaining that it has no money for elections, "then it is absolutely ridiculous because it is supposed to rule in favour of the citizens."

The editorial comment of The Nation then concluded that: "Democracy should not be frustrated. People's right to representation should not be thwarted. Let democracy flourish."

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