Malawi: MEC Asks Court to Stop Voter Registration After Cabinet Committee On COVID-19 Directive

Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has asked the High Court to stop the ongoing registration exercise for the July 2 fresh presidential elections barely after Cabinet Committee on Coronavirus prescribed the suspension of the exercise as precautionary measures to fight the outbreak.

Ansah inspected progress of voter registration exercise currently in its first phase at Mitole Primary School registration center in Chikwawa North Constituency .

The Cabinet Committee led by Minister of Health Jappie Mhango advised the suspension of of voter registration to "safeguard lives of voters".

But MEC proceeded with the registration of voters while rushing to court to seek the legal authority to stop the process.

MEC chairwoman Jane Ansah confirmed the development.

Speaking on Monday when she inspected progress of voter registration exercise at Mitole Primary School registration center in Chikwawa North Constituency, Ansahr implored upon MEC registration staff on the ground to ensure that social distancing coupled with regular hand washing is implemented at all cost.

"I am optimistic that no case of coronavirus pandemic is going to be registerd due to voter registration exercise as well as due to other subsequent activities leading to the Constitution Court ordered presidential elections if we implement the recommended preventive measures. I therefore call upon all of you to ensure social distance during this exercise no matter what," said Ansah.

During Ansah's visit to Chikwawa, which is among districts of Nsanje,Blantyre,Salima,Karonga, Chitipa among others where the first phase of voter registration is currently underway, it was disclosed that the fear of the virus pandemic is making some people to shun away from registering.

It also transpired that the absence of National Registration Staff at voter registration centers prevented people without national identity cards from registering unlike in the May 2019 Tripartite Elections where they were being registered first by the NRB staff right on the center before being enrolled in the voters register.

Legal expert Justin Dzonzi said while it is praiseworthy to take preventive measures, the Cabinet committee does not have constitutional mandate on issues to do with elections.

"The constitution of the ministerial committee to do with Coronavirus is purely administrative and not provided for under the appropriate law. I know the president is proceeding on basis of a law called Disaster Preparedness and Relief Act but the law for purposes of doing with Coronavirus is the Public Health Act," Dzonzi said on Times Radio.

He also described the committee's decision as an interference with electoral process stressing that the Executive would only advise Mec to call for a Necof [National Elections Consultative Forum] meeting to map the way forward.

"We should keep in mind that these are not normal elections but court ordered election. Any processes that are likely to interfere in implementation of that order require a sanction of that court. Mec, as a party to the election, should have gone to court and make an application asking an extension of time and interim suspend the voter registration," he said.

The electoral body started the first phase of the registration process in preparation for Constitutional Court sanctioned fresh presidential elections.

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