Malawi: A poll facing formidable legal, health challenges

APA-Lilongwe (Malawi)

The journey to Malawi’s State House is proving to be an arduous one for presidential aspirants and their supporters.

First it was the disputed May 2019 presidential polls whose outcome was successfully challenged by the opposition in February, leading the Constitutional Court to overturn President Peter Mutharika’s re-election and ordering a rerun within 150 days.

Then came the feeble challenge of the Constitutional Court ruling by Mutharika and the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). The challenge was however thrown out by the Supreme Court early this month.

As if these legal hurdles are not enough, the political players and electoral officials are having to contend with two other challenges.

One of these is a legal one and involves the confusion surrounding the polling date.

The MEC and parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee say the elections would be held on June 23, while Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale has declared as null and void a resolution by the committee setting the poll date.

In a letter dated May 22, Kaphale argued that the committee “misdirected itself” by pronouncing itself on the poll date and ordering the MEC to move forward the elections from the earlier date of July 2 that had been set by the electoral body.

He said the legal committee does not have the power to set the poll date.

“To begin with, your committee is not parliament at all. It is simply a committee of parliament,” Kaphale is quoted as saying, adding to the hurdles surrounding the forthcoming elections.

However perhaps the most formidable challenge the electoral commission and the political players will have to contend with is the how to ensure the campaigning and polling do not trigger an increase in cases of the coronavirus.

Malawi has so far had 101 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths, and there are fears that the numbers could rise due to the lack of social distancing during the ongoing campaigns.

Politicians are doing everything to get votes, including urging their supporters to ignore health messages about prevention of coronavirus.

The country's Vice President Saulos Chilima recently told his United Transformation Movement supporters during a political rally in the capital Lilongwe that they should continue converging in large numbers.

The UTM is contesting the presidential rerun as part of an electoral alliance that includes the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the People's Party (PP). 

“When we are walking, if you meet someone putting on MCP clothes, hug them. And if you meet someone in PP clothes hug them, they are your relations,” Chilima said.

He said one cannot contract COVID-19 by hugging other people.


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