Malawi Elections Case Continuity 'Good for Both DPP and Opposition'

14 August 2019

As Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal is expected to deliver its ruling on Thursday on an appeal by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) on High Court ruling in June dismissing an application to throw out, based on technicalities, a petition challenging presidential election results, experts have said it is the best interest of both the petitioners and respondents to have the case reach logical conclusion.

Chakwera (l) and Chilima: Petitioners Munthali; I think it is in the best interest of both MEC, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the opposition that the election case should continue

MEC wants the Supreme Court to reverse the High Court's decision in proceeding with the case on the basis that the petitions, initially filed separately but later consolidated by the court, were filed fraudulently, out of time and without sworn statements.

But experts feel a determination by the Constitutional Court where the case is currently being heard remains the tangible solution to the current situation.

"I think it is in the best interest of both MEC, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the opposition that the election case should continue. At the end of the day this will partly help in answering the question as to whether the election was rigged or not," governance expert Makhumbo Munthali told Nyasa Times.

"If the Court decides to discontinue the case based on technicalities this will mean that the substance of the matter will remain unresolved. And people will still hold the perception that the election was rigged," said Munthali.

He said it is in public interest that the case is pursued to the logical conclusion.

"For DPP and MEC they need to know that allowing the Court to pursue the substance of the case to the logical conclusion will also help them in validating or invalidating the outcome of 2019 Presidential elections.

"If the Court does not find any (serious) evidence of rigging, this would in one way or the other strengthen Mutharika's legitimacy to govern. Otherwise, DPP'S and MEC's decision to challenge the continuation of the case may raise some questions or suspicion, and in some way validates claims that the election was rigged," he added.

He said the court path should be viewed in this stalemate as one critical avenue in validating or invalidating the Presidential election outcome as such both parties need to cooperate and give the Constitutional Court a chance to administer justice.

Munthali said while mindful of the independence of the Court to interpret on the matter, it is likely that in the event the Supreme Court decides to grant DPP and MEC plea to discontinue the case Malawi may experience the worst form of political unrest.

"Such a decision may only validate the existing public perception that elections were rigged by MEC and DPP, and the focus of the demonstrations may definitely change from Jane Ansah to Mutharika who may face serious legitimacy challenges in such a context.

"In other words, such a ruling may politically achieve in sowing seeds of doubt to Mutharika as a legitimately elected leader. At the end of the day, the bulk of blame won't be on the Court but rather on DPP and MEC for blocking Malawians from knowing the truth on the matter through the current ongoing case in court," said Munthali.

He continued: "While DPP and MEC have all the rights to appeal against the High Court ruling on the continuity of the case, it would have been good if they had withdrawn the appeal in the public interest especially looking at the progress by the Constitution Court on the election case and recent demonstrations."

Meanwhile, lawyer Justin Dzonzi has observed that the Constitutional Court election case trial is moving on snail's pace instead of being expedited.

"What we have seen is that cross-examination of the first petitioner has already taken up over three days. Obviously, this has an impact in terms of the overall time allocated to the case. With all factors constant, if the current type of cross-examination goes unchecked, chances are that there is no way hearing of the case will be concluded within 12 days.

"What seems to come out clearly is that the Attorney General has taken a cross-examination style that is perhaps not sensitive to time. As a legal practitioner, I know you cannot stop a party from cross-examination issues which they think are pertinent to the case, but if you listen to the first line of cross-examination for over two or three hours, it was primarily on making the first petitioner read legal provisions," said Dzonzi in quotes reported by The Nation newspaper.

Dzonzi said witnesses are brought to court not for purposes of interpreting the law, but to bring facts and that the interpretation of the law must be left to judges and lawyers.

Happy Kayuni, a Chancellor College based-political analyst believes that the electorate have too much trust in the court, but any delays could worsen the political situation.

The paper also quoted him saying: "It is very evident that things are not fine. People have trust in the court. However, any delays will not help matters.

"Some think that delays in the court will make people forget, but the opposite is the truth. We have seen that protesters have become very violent and people on social media are speaking with so much anger."

For Kayuni, it is high time parties involved in the matter started preparing themselves and their supporters on the delay and possible outcomes from the court.

"People need to know that the court may not be the only solution to the current situation. There is need to look for other solutions on how best to deal with the tension. Parties must seriously start engaging and preparing on that, especially when you look at the possibility of the case taking long," he added.

Both Saulos Chilima the UTM Party leader and Lazarus Chakwera the president of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) are challenging results of the presidential election, claiming that they were rigged in favour of President Mutharika who was declared winner with 38 percent.

Results MEC announced show that Chakwera trailed Mutharika with 35 percent while Chilima finished third with 20 percent of the votes.

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