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MPs meet over fresh election

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By Feston Malekezo & Rebecca Chimjeka:

CONFIRMED THE MEETING—Msukwa

The Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament has said it will meet tomorrow and on Wednesday to discuss the way forward on potential dates for the court-ordered fresh presidential election which was initially slated for July 2.

Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson, Jane Ansah, had announced the July 2 date on March 23 but indicated last week that Mec does not have powers to set dates for elections.

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She then shifted the task to Parliament which she said must meet and set the date. Ansah suggested that June 23 would be an ideal day so that the electoral body can announce the election results within eight days after polling as required by the law.

The 150 days within which the court ordered that the fresh poll should be conducted expires on July 3.

Legal Affairs Committee Chairperson, Kezzie Msukwa, said in an interview yesterday that during his committee’s meeting, they will also discuss the judgement of the Supreme Court of Appeal which sustained the verdict of the High Court—that heard the election petition as a constitutional referral—In which it nullified the 2019 presidential poll.

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He added that the lawmakers are also meeting to work on issues that President Peter Mutharika found wanting in the electoral reforms bills that he refused to assent to.

“I will best answer what will happen next if the President rejects the bills again,” Msukwa said.

The said bills are Electoral Commission Act Amendment Bill of 2020, Electoral Commission Act Amendment Bill 2 of 2020, Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act (PPEA) Amendment Bill and Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act Amendment Bill 2 of 2020.

The PPEA bill had set May 19 as the date for the fresh election, among other things, while the Electoral Commission bill included provisions for the appointment of Mec commissioners where they have to be vetted by the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament.

SANGWANI MWAFULIRWA

Meanwhile, Mec spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa has said government has released about K6.6 billion for preparations of the fresh poll but Minister of Finance, Joseph Mwanamvekha, maintained that the Covid-19 pandemic threatens the funding of the election budgeted at K28 billion.

Mwanamvekha said the election was budgeted in the 2019/2020 financial year before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

“We had anticipated that everything would be normal but that is no longer the case now that we have Covid-19,” Mwanamvekha said, adding that Treasury will try its best to source the funds “but it will be a big challenge”.

He also said donors have indicated that they will not fund the election as they also have challenges in their own countries due to the virus.

But Malawi Congress Party Secretary-General, Eisenhower Mkaka, told The Daily Times that Parliament already made provisions for the fresh election.

“As such, they [Treasury] cannot hide behind lack of funds as an excuse for not having the fresh presidential election. The fresh election will, on the basis of the financial provision, still take place,” he said.

On his part, UTM spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga reminded government that democracy is expensive.

Political and social commentator Henry Chingaipe said President Peter Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) continue to contest the decisions of the court.

“Now that the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Constitutional Court, it is clear to the President and DPP that the judicial route has taken them to a dead end. Now, they will use any mechanism or facility within the ambit of Executive power to delay or frustrate the election. We must expect more of such things,” Chingaipe said.

Lawyer Khumbo Soko urged Mwanamvekha to ask Parliament to make the appropriation for the fresh election, saying it was ordered by the court such that the order has to be complied with.

“If there is a shortfall, he should go back to Parliament to make the necessary additional appropriation,” Soko said.

The High Court, that heard the election petition as a constitutional referral, ordered on February 3 that the fresh poll should be held within 150 days from that day. The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

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