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Polls full trial on July 29

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By Macdonald Thom:

The Constitutional Court, sitting in Lilongwe, is on July 29 2019 expected to start full hearing of petitions which Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera and his UTM counterpart Saulos Chilima made on the outcome of the May 21 presidential election.

High Court judges—Healey Potani, Mike Tembo, Dingiswayo Madise, Ivy Kamanga and Redson Kapindu—Wednesday continued hearing preliminary issues of the case.

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On the day, the parties agreed on how the matter would proceed. According to MCP lead counsel Mordecai Msisha, Chakwera and Chilima are supposed to file all their documents by 4pm on July 1 2019.

President Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party and Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) will have 21 days to respond.

There will be further seven days for Chakwera and Chilima to respond to the issues which the respondents would raise before trial starts on July 29.

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During yesterday’s proceedings, Msisha said they had made applications to amend the petition they filed in court and disclosures.

“We wanted to have access to certain documents that have to do with the elections— the tally sheets and the results sheets—because we need to compare these documents with what our monitors had. There is a broad range of things that we think are essential for ascertaining what really happened. As for the bank accounts, we need to know if any Mec staff had transactions in their accounts that are unusual, that could not be explained of inflows of funds,” he said.

On the petitions, Msisha added: “The amendments were basically to stay within what the law provides in terms of the remedies that the court can impose after it hears an elections petition at the end of it. What they can do is declare the election null and void, and then direct new elections. So, we needed an amendment that captures that aspect and take out anything that will not be consistent with what the law says.”

He also said some of the amendments were made to take out a suggestion of a recount, as they are not sure of the security of the May 21 elections ballot boxes.

“We didn’t want to seek remedies that depended on looking at ballot boxes whose security we cannot determine. We made the amendments to take out any suggestions of a recount and I think it will be very unwise to do that,” Msisha said.

Chilima, through lawyer Chikosa Silungwe, also made applications for disclosures and filing of further sworn statements.

Mutharika’s lead counsel Frank Mbeta said the matter started in the morning with a ruling that Times Radio should cover live when the proceedings start.

“All parties made presentations, and the court ruled that they can be live on the radio and not on television and they will only begin to do that when the actual trial begins, not on the Chamber matters that we have been doing,” Mbeta said.

He, however, said they were against some of the applications which the petitioners have made.

“Some of the amendments they seek to bring are not part of what one would want to plead under Section 100 of Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act under which their petitions have been brought. Our view is that, if you are amending, amend within the applicable laws,” Mbeta said.

The court is today expected to make a ruling on the applications which Chakwera and Chilima have made.

Chakwera and Chilima are challenging Mec’s decision to declare Mutharika the winner of the elections, citing some irregularities.

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