Dean of Law at Chancellor College, Sunduzwayo Madise, has weighed in on the possibility of suspending the forthcoming presidential election, saying no one else apart from the courts has powers to make that decision.
Madise was reacting to a proposal by some National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) members that the fresh poll—which was ordered by the Constitutional Court—should be suspended until the coronavirus outbreak is under control.
During the Necof meeting which was held in Mangochi on Friday, Malawi Electoral Support Network, National Elections Systems Trust (Nest) and representatives of governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) proposed the suspension in the wake of the virus which President Peter Mutharika declared a state of disaster.
Malawi has not officially registered any case so far.
Madise said in an interview Sunday that Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) has a legal basis to go back to court and ask for an extension in an event that Covid-19 affects Malawi.
He, however, said Mec on its own or any electoral stakeholder has no mandate to suspend the fresh poll considering that it is being held under a court order.
“Mec can go back to court and ask for an extension on the basis of the Covid-19 outbreak and on the basis that the President declared a state of disaster which the Judiciary might have taken note of. I believe the court can look at these factors and make its determination,” Madise said.
He also said Covid-19 is a global crisis that might even affect the coming in of election observers as well as the importation of electoral materials.
“It would be difficult to also limit the number of people to vote in an event that Malawi registered a case of the Covid-19 by the time of voting,” Madise said.
The outbreak of the contagious virus has heavily hit several countries with some of them ordering lockdowns where their exit and entry points have been completely shut down.
During the Necof meeting, DPP Director of Operations, Mwai Kamuyambeni and another senior member of the party, Hophmally Makande, argued that Covid-19 is posing a serious challenge on the preparations of the fresh poll.
“Let us take emotions out of this issue. We should not act because we want positions, but we should take the coronavirus outbreak as a serious public health problem which needs our attention. There is no way we can go ahead with the election while the world is grappling with the virus,” Kamuyambeni said.
His sentiments were echoed by Nest Executive Director, Unandi Banda, who claimed that there are clear indications that most political parties taking part in the election cannot adhere to the Covid-19 prevention measures.
On his part, Mesn Chairperson, Steve Duwa, proposed seeking clearance from court to extend the period for holding the election until the virus is dealt with.
But opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and its alliance partner, UTM, opposed the idea of postponing the poll.
During the meeting, Mec Chairperson, Jane Ansah, proposed a 20-minute break to allow stakeholders to discuss and come up with a decision on whether to suspend the election which is slated for July 2.
But Centre for Multiparty Democracy Chairperson, Kandi Padambo, said political parties are of the view that they do not have the mandate to suspend the election.
“The coronavirus outbreak is a public health problem such that there are some institutions which were established by the government to handle public health issues. We will wait for them to make a decision and we will react from there,” Padambo said.
MCP Secretary-General, Eisenhower Mkaka and his UTM counterpart, Patricia Kaliati, backed the idea.
In reaction, Ansah said Mec’s position is to wait for the government to make a decision.
“Last time, ballot papers were procured from [United Arab Emirates] and at the moment, the country has suspended its flights. There are a lot of countries that are under lockdowns. So our stand is that we will make a decision when the time comes. At the moment, we will continue with preparations of holding the election on July 2,” Ansah said.
She also disclosed that there is a possibility that the budget will be affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Mec budgeted about K34 billion for the fresh poll but Ansah said the money would not be enough to cater for Covid-19 preventive measures.