from MAVHUTO BANDA in Lilongwe, Malawi
LILONGWE, (CAJ News) – THE appointment of new commissioners to Malawi’s elections management body is the latest highlight in the country’s democracy coming of age and is a tactful move by President Lazarus Chakwera to mend rifts between the rival political parties.
It also paves way for the way for the June 29 by-elections that had been left in doubt after the recent firing, by the High Court, of four commissioners illegally appointed by the previous administration of Peter Mutharika.
Arthur Nanthulu, Steve Duwa, Linda Kunje and Jean Mathanga were commissioners during the chaotic 2019 poll, preceding their appearance before Parliament in February 2020.
The legislative house who recommended their dismissal but Mutharika declined to fire them.
The subsequent expulsion of the officers from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) left the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), with two commissioners and the chairperson, hence lacking authority to make resolutions, decisions or determinations based on its constitutional mandate.
However, Chakwera (leader of the Malawi Congress Party, MCP) has appointed four new commissioners, including three whose names were submitted by the DPP.
The DPP commissioners are Emmanuel Fabiano, Francis Lazaro Kasaila and Caroline Mfune.
Mutharika’s party nominated Richard Chapweteka.
This is the latest highlight of democracy deepening in the Southern African country after the Constitutional Court annulled the May 2019 presidential election due to widespread, systematic irregularities.
The poll two years ago had retained Mutharika in power.
The court ordered a new presidential election and determined the threshold for victory to be 50 percent and one vote, instead of the simple plurality that had been used in previous elections.
Exactly a year ago, Chakwera, who led the “Tonse” coalition of nine opposition parties, won the election with 59 percent of the vote.
The results were widely accepted.
According to the think-tank, Sabi Strategy Group, the overturning of 2019’s election and the subsequent victory of Chakwera demonstrated “an astonishing domestic ownership over the democratic process in Malawi.”
“Furthermore the results will have a knock-on effect for the wider Southern African region, aiding democratic development by providing an example of best practice, demonstrating that corrupt electoral practices can and should be overcome,” Sabi stated.
Osias Kapesa, the political analyst, welcomed the political maturity prevailing in the country.
“Had it been any other country, Malawi would have spilled into bloodshed with the annulment of the poll,” he said.
“By appointing officers from the rival party, Chakwera has enhanced democracy in the country and displayed true leadership faced with the temptation of vindictiveness and cronyism,” Kapesa added.
Chakwera’s win represented the first time an opposition candidate had defeated the incumbent since the transition to democracy in 1994.
In its report titled “Democracy under Lockdown – The Impact of COVID-19 on Global Freedom” the Freedom House, a think-tank, reported that only Malawi had improved in the study of 80 countries.
Among other indicators, in September 2020, Chakwera operationalised the long-stalled 2017 Access to Information Act.
Further, his office instituted weekly news conferences, opening the space for journalists to report on government activity.
Meanwhile, by-elections in the Southern African nation of an estimated 19,5 million people are set for some wards in the districts of Blantyre, Nkhata Bay and Nsanje.
– CAJ News