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Malawi Court Dismisses Presidential Elections Challenge

FILE - Malawi's newly elected President Lazarus Chakwera greets supporters after being sworn in in Lilongwe, Malawi, June 28 2020.
FILE - Malawi's newly elected President Lazarus Chakwera greets supporters after being sworn in in Lilongwe, Malawi, June 28 2020.

A challenge to Malawi’s 2020 presidential elections has been dismissed by the country’s constitutional court. The opposition Democratic Progress Party had asked the court to rule on voting results, which put President Lazarus Chakwera into office. Party officials have not yet decided their next move.

Reading the final judgment Friday, chairperson of a five-judge panel Sylvester Kalembera faulted the opposition Democratic Progress Party’s argument that Attorney General Chakaka Nyirenda was not supposed to handle the case because he was not yet sworn into his position.

"Our finding is that the framers of the constitution did not intend for the attorney general to take an oath of office," said Kalembera. "We have found that the attorney general is properly before us.”

Kalembera said the DPP’s court challenge was irregular on seven grounds.

"Six, the claimant being precluded from benefiting from its own illegality," said Kalembera. "And seven, the proceeding being frivolous, vexatious and abuse of court’s process. The claimant actions have been struck out. The claimant has been condemned in the attorney general’s costs. This is the ruling of the court.”

Attorney General Nyirenda, who is also the defense lawyer in the case, said the ruling was not a surprise.

"This is what we expected," said Nyirenda. "From [the] word go we said that it’s a hopeless case, so I am happy that I am vindicated.”

Public reaction to the closely followed case has been swift. Rhoda Chigalu, a resident of Ndirande Township in Blantyre, says the judge has saved the country from spending a lot of money on the case.

"And I applaud the court because the DPP should not take Malawians for granted. And this is the small country,” said Chigalu. "Why do we have to be doing elections now again. And I think the court is standing for the people, protecting Malawians who pay taxes”

However, political analyst George Phiri says both sides could have saved time by addressing the issue without involving the court.

"The hiring of commissioners and firing of commissioners is a process, especially on the appointment, it’s a process,” said Phiri. "And the process went through well. Why didn’t they object to the appointment right at the time of the appointment and not through the court, just like it has happened?”

Charles Mhango is the lead lawyer for the DPP. He says the party will decide whether to appeal the judgment after going through the detailed judgment document.

"At the moment, the only thing that I can say is that yes, our client’s case has been dismissed, and we are going to consult with our client because we want to read through, reflect on a sober manner on the issues they have raised,” said Mhango.

The court says it will release a detailed judgment on December 30.

The DPP petitioned the high court in June to nullify results of last year’s rerun presidential election, and the court had been considering the case since September.

The party’s court challenge came soon after the high court quashed the appointment of four DPP commissioners, saying their appointment was invalid and unconstitutional.

The party also wanted the court to invalidate the rerun election because it was managed by commissioners who it says were wrongly appointed.

Former president Peter Mutharika appointed commissioners Jean Mathanga, Linda Kunje, Steven Duwa and Arthur Nanthuru during the 2020 re-run presidential elections.

DPP lawyers argue that Malawi’s Constitution does not recognize an election that was presided over by undeserving commissioners.

During a preliminary hearing on the case in September, however, Attorney General and government defense lawyer Nyirenda, asked the court to dismiss the case, saying it lacked merit.

Nyirenda accused the DPP of trying to benefit from the mistake it made by wrongly appointing its own commissioners. He said the DPP cannot be rewarded for its own irregularities.

He also argued the election result challenge should have been filed by the candidate, Peter Mutharika, who represented the party in the presidential election, and not by the party itself.