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Judiciary unaware of Jane Ansah’s resignation

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Mgeme Kalilani

Despite the resignation of Justice Jane Ansah as Chairperson of Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec), the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) is yet to meet and nominate candidates who will replace Ansah at the commission.

Registrar for the Judiciary Agnes Patemba said in an interview yesterday that the Judiciary is yet to be informed about the vacancy for it to commence necessary steps.

“We are yet to be informed of the vacancy. We will wait until then for the JSC to act,” she said without further details.

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This technically means that the Judiciary has not yet received official communication about Ansah’s resignation from either the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) or Mec.

When contacted, clerk in the OPC Marjorie Chisambo said she would have no information on such a matter, referring us to presidential Press Secretary Mgeme Kalilani.

Kalilani said Mutharika will in due course write the Judicial Commission, so that it initiates process to fill the vacuum at Mec.

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“The President got Ansah’s resignation letter on Thursday, which he responded to by accepting her decision on Friday. So by early next week, the president will write the commission for sure and will wait while they recommend names to his office for approval to be the next chairperson of the Mec,” Kalilani said.

Section 75 of the Constitution states that: “There shall be an electoral commission which shall consist of a Chairman who shall be a Judge nominated in that behalf by the JSC and such other members, not being less than six, as may be appointed in accordance with an Act of Parliament.”

Asked on what criteria the JSC employs to nominate the candidates Patemba said: “I wouldn’t know since the JSC is independent from my office.”

A renowned lawyer who opted for anonymity however hinted that though the immediate past two chairpersons [Ansah and the late Maxon Mbendera] were judges of the Supreme Court, High Court Judges equally qualify for nomination in line with the law.

This comes at a time when the country races against time to the court ordered fresh presidential election which is likely to take place on June 23, 2020.

Ansah resigned on Thursday May 21, exactly a year after she presided over the election which was nullified by the Constitutional Court in Lilongwe on grounds of massive irregularities.

The resignation, according to her, was in compliance with the Supreme Court of Appeal’s judgement which upheld the ruling of the lower court which found her and eight other commissioners incompetent.

President Mutharika accepted her resignation a day later, thereby leaving a vacuum in the office of the Mec chairperson, who according to the country’s legislation is supposed to spearhead all electoral activities ahead of the fresh poll.

Reacting to the development spokesperson for the Malawi Congress Party Maurice Munthali said concerned institutions should treat the issue of Ansah’s replacement with utmost urgency, calling on the OPC not to abrogate its duty.

Apparently, Malawians wait with baited breath to see whether the remaining commissioners will resign just like Ansah following calls that they should do so.

Commissioner Moffat Banda said he will not resign since his contract expires on June 5.

“Can someone resign while his contract is already coming to an end? “Our retirement is near, so why should they be asking us to resign? We are no longer administering the election our time comes to an end early June,” Banda said.

In separate interviews, commissioners Jean Mathanga and Linda Kunje refused to comment when asked if they would accept reappointment by Mutharika after June 5.

“Let’s wait until then, I should not comment now,” Mathanga said.

Ansah becomes the first Mec chairperson to call it quits, following a wave of protests and court battles pushing for her ouster.

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