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Court favours Lazarus Chakwera, Saulos Chilima

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By Rebecca Chimjeka & Macdonald Thom:

The High Court, sitting as a constitutional court in Lilongwe, Thursday ruled that Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) should provide Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera with records of May 21 presidential election.

The court has also ruled that ballot boxes must be kept safe, in the hands of the Clerk of Parliament, and not Malawi Police Service.

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The court also ruled that Mec should disclose to Chakwera the list of all the 147 electoral complaints which Mec Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah said the electoral body had received and how they were resolved.

Five High Court judges— Healey Potani, Mike Tembo, Dingiswayo Madise, Ivy Kamanga and Redson Kapindu— were yesterday delivering their ruling on applications made by Chakwera and his UTM counterpart Saulos Chilima, who petitioned the court over the outcome of the elections.

The five-judge panel has also accepted Chakwera’s application to amend the petition he filed to the court, clearing the ground for him to ask for fresh elections in the event that the court declares the elections null and void.

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The court has, however, denied the party permission to have access to bank accounts of data entry clerks.

According to President Peter Mutharika’s lead counsel Frank Mbeta, although the court accepted the amendment of Chakwera’s petition, it did not approve that Mec commissioners should be dismissed, in the event that the court orders fresh elections.

“The court said the only remedy is to order a fresh election but it does not extend to who should be at the Electoral Commission at the time of holding elections. As regards to disclosures, some have been allowed [while in other cases] certain documents will have to be provided,” Mbeta said .

He added: “But there are documents by some of the staff, particularly data entry clerks at the Electoral Commission, which Chakwera was seeking to be provided [to him] by electoral commission. [In that case], there are other laws that Chakwera can use to get them.”

In the petition which was initially filed to the court, Chakwera wanted a recount of votes in some districts.

However, Thursday, MCP lead counsel Mordecai Msisha said they had to change some of the reliefs sought, taking into consideration the safety of the ballot papers.

The court has also ruled in favour of Chakwera on the request to access all information technology (IT) infrastructures used during the whole process of elections.

Mec and Mutharika had objected to this, saying hackers might end up hacking Mec, further saying security of Mec officials might be compromised.

The judges have also ruled that all log-in and log-out details for IT equipment to do with votes’ data entry should be provided. They also said Mec’s computers must be scrutinised by all parties.

The court has also allowed Chilima to file sworn statements out of time, but it has not ordered Mec to provide delivery notes of ballot boxes, as the electoral body did not have any.

“He wanted goods-received notes for ballot papers when they were being delivered, probably to the Clerk of Parliament or from polling centres to the Electoral Commission. Those documents do not exist; they are not part of the commission’s system [and] therefore the court has declined to order disclosure of such documents,” Mbeta said.

Chakwera and Chilima are fighting Mec’s declaration that Mutharika won the presidential election, citing some irregularities. They want the court to nullify the elections.

Full hearing of the matter is expected to start on July 29.

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