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‘European Union won’t release poll report now’

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The European Union Election Observer Mission (EU-EOM) has suspended until further notice the release of May 21 Tripartite Elections’ report following reservations from most electoral stakeholders in Malawi.

The EU delegation wanted to release the report soon after arrival in Lilongwe Wednesday, despite that the Constitutional Court sitting in Lilongwe is yet to release its verdict on the presidential election case.

Aurelie Valtat, EU Deputy Head of Political Affairs in Malawi, yesterday confirmed to have shelved the release of the report.

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She, however, said EU Chief Elections Observer, Miroslav Poche and his deputy Mark Steven arrived yesterday and they are scheduled to meet with stakeholders.

“I can confirm that the EU team of the observers arrived Wednesday afternoon through Kamuzu International Airport but we have suspended the release of the report until the Constitutional Court has made its determination,” Valtat said.

Since EU-EOM announced its intention to release the report, stakeholders such as political parties and Malawi Law Society (MLS) have raised concerns that the report would jeopardise the pending court judgement. The court will release its verdict within 45 days from December 21 2019.

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UTM president Saulos Chilima and his Malawi Congress Party counterpart Lazarus Chakwera petitioned the court to nullify the presidential elections results, which saw Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) declaring Peter Mutharika the winner.

Earlier, Chakwera and Chilima made it clear that they would decline a proposed meeting with the visiting EU delegation.

In a letter dated January 8 2020, addressed to Valvat, MLS said releasing the report could cause public unrest.

“Considering that the outcome of the presidential elections is still in dispute at the court and given the status of your institution, the Law Society is of the view that releasing your final report at this time risks falling foul of the subjudice rule besides playing as a catalyst to potential public unrest on issues concerning the presidential elections and possibly places your institution in breach of your duty under section 110 of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act not to interfere in, or impede the normal course of the election.”

“The EU Observer Mission is, no doubt, aware of the volatile situation prevailing post 21st May, 2019 presidential elections. The Society considers that in the event that your report indicates findings that are contrary to the expectations of some quarters and or the judgment of the court does not support the findings of the Observer Mission, there is potential that this might incite violence. The Society believes that the Observer Mission or indeed the European Union would not want to be associated with any failure to promote rule of law at any point in time,” reads the letter in part.

Besides, MLS has an opinion that by virtue of section 103 of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act, “…international observation ends with the determination of the national result or the settlement thereafter of all election disputes”.

MCP spokesperson, Reverend Maurice Munthali, agreed with MLS that the report should be withheld.

“We feel like the timing of the report is wrong and the character is quite contemptuous. The issue is already in court of law and one wonders why EU could wait all this long to deliver the report now. That is why everybody, including MCP, is suspicious,” he said.

Chancellor College political analyst Ernest Thindwa said it was only wise for EU not to release the report, saying it lacks relevance given political and legal scenarios.

“Over the years, I have observed within and outside Malawi that the challenge with international observer missions is that their reports on electoral processes and outcomes are not necessarily based on objective assessment of issues but guided by the desire to secure peace without much regard for justice. Such reports put a premium price on peace without much attention to justice, scenarios which only succeed in securing temporary peace, leaving fundamental issues of justice unresolved and, therefore, a risk for long-term peace in the absence of justice,” Thindwa said.

Soon after polling and announcement of the disputed results, EU-EOM issued a preliminary statement which focused on key areas of the electoral process such as registration of voters and gender issues during campaign.

EU-EOM described the polls as “well-managed, inclusive, transparent and competitive, but the campaign was marked by tensions and an unlevel playing field.”

EU-EOM also said counting at polling stations was transparent but challenged by poor conditions and poor adherence to procedures.

“The vote count was transparent, with party monitors present in all polling stations observed, while citizen observers were present in 25 out of 32 polling stations,” the report reads.

Meanwhile, Kamuzu International Airport police are reported to have arrested journalists Steve Zimba and Francis Chamasowa working for Zodiak Broadcasting Station and Golden Matonga for Nation Publications Limited who went to the airport to cover the arrival of the EU delegation.

There were no details as to why the reporters were arrested.

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