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Committee move illegal—experts

It has no mandate to stop elections

The special ministerial Committee on Covid-19 has been criticised following its decision to suspend all activities relating to voter registration which is being conducted by Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) in readiness for the July 2 2020 fresh presidential election.

In its update on the Covid-19 situation in the country Tuesday, the committee, through its chairperson Jappie Mhango, ordered that starting tomorrow, voter registration must be suspended to “safeguard lives of voters”.

“What we are saying is that you can only have an election where people are enjoying good health. We are government and we have a duty to protect the citizens. It’s not about the courts. Wisdom must prevail. We have got wise people in courts and Parliament. This disease will not spare anybody.

“This [Covid-19] will not spare anybody. Whether you are in government, Judiciary and opposition. Even the Prime Minister of UK [Boris Johnson is suspected to] have the disease,’’ he said.

Mhango, who is Minister of Health, said the plan is not to disrupt the elections but not to subject people to hazardous activities. But legal expert Justin Dzonzi said while it is praiseworthy to take preventive measures, the decision by the committee cannot stand and it is illegal since the 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.

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.

Dean of Law at Chancellor College Sunduzwayo Madise also earlier said no one, including Mec on its own, has powers to decide on the elections as it was ordered by the court. Last week, High Court judge Justice Kenyatta Nyirenda, blamed the government of using outdated laws in its response to the Covid-19.

At a Necof meeting in Blantyre, UTM and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) stood against the decision to postpone activities related to the elections but yesterday,

UTM Publicity Secretary Joseph Chidanti- Malunga said they will wait for an official communication from the forum. MCP’s Publicity Secretary Maurice Munthali said the party is yet to come up with a position as it will have to consult since it is in an alliance with UTM.

The ministerial committee also suspended church congregations, special market days, weddings among others. During the briefing, Minister of Homeland Security Nicholas Dausi said the Malawi Police Service will play its role of enforcing the measures.

“We will have police making sure that people adhere to these measures. If one is found contravening such measures, the law will take its course,” he said.

Meanwhile, the committee announced that the country has eight confirmed cases of Covid-19 patients and there has been a reported Covid-19 related death.

Two new cases were recorded in Blantyre and one in Chikwawa.

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