Malawi’s election saga continues
Now five days after Malawi’s tripartite election should have ended, there is still no official declaration as to who won the presidential race. Unofficial results and a parallel vote tabulation project Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has won, and he was trailed by Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), and then current President, Joyce Banda of the People’s Party (PP).
Both Banda and presidential candidate Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) have held press conferences proclaiming massive irregularities in the vote counts. Banda’s press conference was perhaps the most surprising – it was the first time I heard a sitting president allege that the opposition has rigged the vote. She mentioned in particular the problems the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) was having in transmitting vote counts from the constituencies to the tally center headquarters in Blantyre. Interestingly, the government-run media house, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), did not air her press conference live. Shortly thereafter, MBC’s Director General, Benson Tembo, was put on forced leave (he has since been reinstated).
MEC [originally] stood by their counting process, saying though their electronic data capture system’s problems required them to do a manual tally, their counts were still consistent with the tallies made in the constituencies.
Then, yesterday afternoon, President Banda held a press conference saying that in her position as the president, she was nullifying the elections and ordering fresh elections to happen in 90 days. (She claimed she would not be a candidate in those fresh elections.) Banda asserted she had the power to nullify the election results under Malawi’s constitution (at first she cited Section 82(2), and a later press conference corrected herself by citing Section 88(2)). Section 88(2) reads:
The President shall provide executive leadership in the interest of national unity in accordance with this Constitution and the laws of the Republic.
After seeing many on Twitter cite this section of the constitution, I pointed them to what is said in Section 88(5):
The President and members of the Cabinet shall not use their respective offices for personal gain or place themselves in a situation where their material interests conflict with the responsibilities and duties of their offices.
It was obvious Banda was grasping at straws to try to block a Peter Mutharika presidency. Perhaps she is concerned that once he’s president, he will use his power to make things difficult for her, as she was the one who pursued Peter Mutharika for treason after the death of his brother, former President Bingu wa Mutharika.
No constitutional or legal scholar believed Section 88(2) gave Banda the power to nullify elections. Only hours after Banda’s press conference, Malawi’s High Court set aside Banda’s order that MEC stop counting votes. Counting resumed.
Then, last night, MEC announced they would do a manual recount because of some serious anomalies. (The recount would cover all three elections: presidential, parliamentary, and local government.) The anomalies include having vote tallies that exceeded the number of registered voters in certain constituencies. Malawi’s electoral law requires an announcement of election results by MEC no later than eight days after the election. Even if we consider May 22 the end of the election (because of delays, some polling stations did not complete voting until May 22), the official declaration by MEC of election winners would be required by May 30. I am confident MEC won’t declare official winners by then. They say it will be less than a month. I’ll just leave you with what Blessings Chinsinga has to say about that: