Contesting electoral outcome in court: Chilima
The Constitutional Court case on elections is no ordinary case; it could be a route to democratic maturity.
Malawians purchased their liberty on a peaceful note in June 1993, when a national referendum showed that citizens were tired of the status quo— one party regime— and wanted change; the change being another turn of multiparty politics.
It must be borne in mind that Malawi started off, immediately after changing its name from Nyasaland to Malawi, on a multiparty politics note, with more than two political parties competing in national elections that culminated in the election of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
Then, one turn led to another and another and, when the biggest turn of them all was made, one party regime. The other parties sort of ruled themselves out of relevance.
And so began Malawians’ romance with one political song, the song that ended in 1994 when, after tilting towards democracy, Malawians voted in the United Democratic Front (UDF).
And, every now and then, especially when Malawians vote in national elections, the experiment that is multiparty politics faces a litmus test— again and again, like an exponential curve.
In 1999, when the UDF won the presidential elections without partnering other political parties, Alliance for Democracy (Aford) and MCP cried foul that the polls were “rigged”. United Party, formed by former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika, lost but its torch-bearer had no qualms.
Apparently, Malawians abandoned the ‘one party’ for the ‘they have rigged the elections’ song.
In 2004, when UDF won again, this time after featuring the pair of Bingu and Cassim Chilumpha— who was, this year, banned from contesting for the presidency on Tikonze Alliance ticket, apparently because, according to Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec), he did not have the mandate to do so— the MCP cried foul.
It was joined by Mgwirizano Coalition, represented in the presidential election by veteran politician Gwanda Chakuamba. There were protests in Blantyre City and, sadly, the life of a girl, Epiphania Bonjesi from Chilobwe, was lost after she was shot dead by a police officer whose identity will never be established.
The song ‘they have rigged the election’ was not sang in the 2009 elections, when Bingu, who had pulled a fast one on UDF by resigning from the party on Anti-Corruption Day, February 5, in 2005 and forming his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won the presidential election overwhelmingly.
Mutharika won with 66.1 percent of the votes cast, the first presidential candidate to do so. In 2004, Bingu won with 35.9 percent votes.
In 2014, incumbent president Peter Mutharika won with 36 percent of the votes and 38 percent in the May 21 2019 presidential election.
Of these elections, it is only the 1994 and 2009 presidential elections that did not attract calls of ‘rigging’, that song synonymous with Malawi’s nascent democracy.
Otherwise, the MCP cried foul in 2014 and this year, when the party has been joined in the chorus by UTM of former vice president Saulos Chilima.
They lament the use of Tipp-ex, which Mec Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah said surprised the electoral body, as “Tipp-ex is not part of the elections’ package”.
This prompted losing political parties to, using separate ways, seek recourse in the courts.
Justice Charles Mkandawire asked the political parties to consolidate their cases, culminating in Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda appointing five judges to president over the case at the Constitutional Court.
The case is in court and presents the greatest test to the Judiciary.
On Wednesday, the judges will decide on whether the opposition UTM and MCP filed applications to the court procedurally, as argued by DPP’s lawyers, while the opposition parties will pray that their voice be heard.
Meanwhile, people continue to protest across the country, sometimes attracting the ire of police.
Two weeks ago, police teargassed MCP headquarters in Lilongwe, including outgoing United States Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer, who was bidding bye to MCP leader Lazarus Chakwera at the party’s head offices.
Whether police have silently apologised to the American government is not known.
As the case rages, it is clear that there have been bigger and smaller casualties. The bigger casualties, in terms of losing an election, are the MCP and UTM while the smaller parties are UDF and Alliance for Democracy (Aford), which have seen the numbers of their legislators dwindle.
In the 1994 parliamentary election, Aford scooped all seats in the Northern Region and some in the Central Region.
However, Aford’s numbers in Parliament started to dwindle after the then party leader, the late Chakufwa Chihana, entered into an alliance with the then governing UDF. Currently, Aford has one MP in Parliament.
UDF came to power in 1994 after defeating Malawi Congress Party in 1994. It swept seats in the Southern Region and most seats in the Central Region.
During the 1999 elections, UDF won 91 seats but the figures continued to drop in subsequent elections when it won 49 seats in 2004 and 16 in 2009, 14 in 2014 and 10 in the 2019 polls.
There Malawi’s greatest losers.
Who knows? Maybe the Judiciary may become the next loser, even when Malawians continue to treat it as a potentate in the land of the lake— Malawi.