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Fresh poll on— Jane Ansah

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ANSAH—Isn’t there an order?

Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson, Justice Jane Ansah, Wednesday said fresh presidential election is on although President Peter Mutharika has declined to sign electoral reform bills. “Isn’t there an order for fresh elections?” she said when asked about the possibility of the election taking place within 150 days from February 3 2020 when the Constitutional Court nullified May 21 presidential poll results due to what it described as widespread irregularities.

But Ansah did not give a date for the election since Mutharika rejected the bills which made May 19 2020 the polling day.

Ansah’s position resonates with that of legal expert Sunduzwayo Madise who said with or without the President’s assent to the bill, the fresh presidential election must be held within 150 days.

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Madise, however, said a problem would arise if no candidate gets the prescribed 50%+1 of the votes. Mutharika rejected all the four bills namely Electoral Commission Act Amendment Bill of 2020, Electoral Commission Act Amendment Bill 2 of 2020, Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act Amendment Bill and Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act Amendment Bill 2 of 2020 which sought to clear the way for the fresh election.

The President announced that he had not signed the bills through his Press Secretary, Mgeme Kalilani, at a press briefing held in Blantyre on Tuesday.

Mutharika was expected to communicate his decision against assenting to the bills to the Speaker of National Assembly. However, Speaker, Catherine Gotani Hara, Wednesday said she was yet to get an official communication from Mutharika on his decision on the bills.

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“You know that the bills emanated from the courts, so we will inform the court of the President’s decision for further directions once we get the official communication,” she said. Gotani-Hara also said a decision to call Parliament would be made if they receive the communication.

Contacted for a reaction to Mutharika’s refusal to assent to the bills, Malawi Congress Party president, Lazarus Chakwera, said: “For now, no. I am not commenting on the issue. I am still consulting my lawyers.”

Chakwera and UTM president Saulos Chilima were petitioners in the case that saw the Constitutional Court nullifying the May 21 2019 election over ‘massive irregularities’.

Chilima could not be reached for a comment as we went to press. In an earlier interview, UTM spokesperson, Joseph Chidanti Malunga, said although it was not surprising that Mutharika had rejected the bills, it was a worrisome development and they would consult their lawyers on the same. Announcing Mutharika’s position on the bills, Kalilani said the President will also not fire Mec commissioners, including Ansah. He said Mutharika has withheld assent to the bills because they are in conflict with various Constitutional provisions and other laws governing the conduct of elections in the country.

Section 73 of the Constitution reads: “Where a Bill is presented to the President for assent, the President shall either assent or withhold assent and shall do so within twenty-one days from the date the Bill is presented to him or her. Where the President withholds assent to a Bill, the Bill shall be returned to the Speaker of the National Assembly by the President with a notification that the President’s assent has been withheld, including reasons therefor, and the Bill shall not be again debated by the National Assembly until after the expiry of twenty-one days from the date of the notification of that withholding.

“If the Bill is debated again and passed by a majority of the National Assembly at any time between the date of the expiry of the twenty-one days referred to in subsection (2) and three months from that date, the Bill shall again be presented for assent by the President.

“Where a Bill is again presented to the President for assent in accordance with subsection (3), the President shall assent to the Bill within twenty-one days of its presentation. When a Bill that has been duly passed is assented to in accordance with this Constitution, the Clerk shall cause it to be published immediately in the Gazette.”

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