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Mec says has no power to set poll date

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CONFIRMED THE CMD MEETING—Mkaka

Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Tuesday told political parties at a Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) meeting in Lilongwe that it has no powers to set a date for an election, technically disowning the July 2 date it had initially announced, we have established.

Mec has, meanwhile, asked Parliament to meet and set a date for the fresh presidential election which was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeal last Friday. On March 23, Mec Chairperson Jane Ansah announced that the electoral body had settled for July 2 which is a day shy of the last day of the 150 days within which the High Court had ordered that the fresh election should be held after it had nullified the May 21 2019 presidential poll. Tuesday, Mec met representatives of political parties ahead of the National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting that is expected to take place in Mangochi District today.

Both Malawi Congress Party (MCP) Secretary General Eisenhower Mkaka and UTM Deputy Secretary General Levi Luwembe confirmed attending the meeting where issues bordering on election date were discussed.

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Mkaka said the matter will be presented at the Necof meeting so that the political parties can map the way forward. The implication is that the Supreme Court made it clear that July 2 was an invalid date,” Mkaka said.

On his part, Luwembe, who represented his party’s Secretary General and CMD Deputy Chairperson, Patricia Kaliati, said Mec had told the political parties that the Supreme Court had reminded the electoral body that it does not have powers to set a date for an election.

“We have been told that it was erroneous for Mec to set the July 2 date. Now, Mec has asked political parties to ask for a meeting of Parliament to set a new date or validate the July 2 date,” Luwembe said. He also said during the meeting, Mec commissioners did not indicate whether they were resigning from their positions after the Supreme Court confirmed the judgement of the High Court—that had handled the election petition case as a constitutional referral—in which it had nullified the 2019 presidential poll.

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“The Chairperson announced that one commissioner has gone on leave pending the end of contract. She also reminded political parties that the commissioners’ contracts end on June 29 and that they should start thinking of who to nominate for the positions,” Luwembe said.

He added that during the meeting, National Registration Bureau and Mec made some presentations to dismiss claims that they were registering under-aged children to vote in the forthcoming election. Our sources at the meeting said the declaration by Mec that it has no powers to set dates for elections implies they are back to square one as President Peter Mutharika already rejected a bill which had initially set May 19 as the election date.

But lawyer Khumbo Soko, who was in the team that represented UTM president Saulos Chilima, said what Mec told the political parties was misleading.

“She [Ansah] is just trying to throw spanners in the election process and continuously wants to be the problem instead of being part of the solution. “The court never gave such a directive. And if she wants to go by what Justice [Edward] Twea said about Parliament setting election dates, that view was in minority and therefore cannot override the unanimous decision by the bench,” Soko explained.

During the CMD meeting, our sources said, another contentious issue that arose was the printing of ballot papers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We did not manage to speak to Ansah as her phone went unanswered on several attempts. The High Court had nullified the 2019 presidential election on the basis of widespread and systematic irregularities and described the current crop of Mec commissioners as incompetent.

The Supreme Court upheld the decision and directed that only those who had voted in the past election should do so during the fresh election.

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