Malawi: Caretaker President Mutharika, Malawi Electoral Commission Stretching People's Patience Too Far

28 March 2020

Someone must take responsibility for the mess on the fresh elections which the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) wants to take place on July 2 2020. The mess emanates from the legitimacy of MEC commissioners, or lack of it, to continue holding office and hold fresh elections against the wish of the people.

President Mutharika and Ansah

First, MEC commissioners are clinging to office when Section 12 of the Constitution requires the continued holding of public office to be based on the mandate of the people. The opposition--which collectively amassed 60 percent of the votes in the botched May 21, 2019 presidential election--has no confidence in MEC. As if that is not enough, the High Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court, and Parliament, questioned the commissioners' capacity and competence to conduct credible presidential election.

It is only President Peter Mutharika, whom MEC favoured in the annulled elections, that has thrown his weight behind the beleaguered commissioners. After the people have withdrawn their mandate from MEC commissioners, what more does MEC want? Simply put, MEC commissioners have no legitimacy to be anywhere near the offices they are still clinging to.

Secondly, MEC has made it crystal clear that it is going ahead organising the fresh elections. But has it ever considered what it will it take for the pollster to pull off an election outcome that is accepted by all stakeholders, as free and fair?

There is another complication which makes the commissioners untenable to continue organising the elections. The contracts of all but one of them--MEC chairperson Jane Ansah--expire at the end of June 2020. Ansah's contract ends in September. The law requires that political parties represented in Parliament submit new names of people for the President to appoint as commissioners. By now that process should have been well underway for the new people to be in office as soon as possible and organise the fresh elections before the expiry of the 150 days from February 3, as the Constitutional Court ruled.

All the six political parties in Parliament--DPP, MCP, UDF, PP, UTM and PPM--should by now have done their part. They should have submitted names of prospective people for appointment as commissioners. Doing so early would have given the President no excuse for not appointing a new team in good time to start organising the fresh elections.

It is wishful thinking to assume the new commissioners will be on top of things and manage the elections when they start work just two days before the polling day. They need time to acquaint themselves with the electoral processes and issues and a whole lot of other administrative issues to discharge their duties efficiently and effectively. And this is the more reason, the President, who is mandated to appoint MEC commissioners, should have already kick-started the appointment process.

But what is indisputable is that the caretaker President--Peter Mutharika is in office in an interim capacity--will not do this. Like the MEC commissioners he is protecting, if he were given his way, the President will cling to the interim position as long as it is possible for him to stretch people's patience.

This is what now makes it all the more imperative for people who have keen interest in the fresh elections, especially MCP, UTM and democracy campaigners--to be more vigilante and seek court clarification on the matter. And the sooner they do so the better.

Admitted, the Presidential declaration of a national disaster in light of the coronavirus pandemic also has ramifications on the electoral process. But no one should take advantage of the pandemic to delay the elections further than the day set by the court.

All that the country needs is to put proper systems in place to facilitate a seamless transition as the beleaguered MEC exits the stage and a new one takes over. Unfortunately, the Executive and, more specifically, the President on whom the buck stops, are all hell bent to frustrate the process and use it to justify their continued unwelcome stay in office. The way taking people for granted has become banal could be stretching people's patience a bit far.

This article was first published in Weekend Nation newspaper

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