A somewhat perturbed Mutharika sat in Parliament the other day and alleged that Malawian opposition parties had sought the services of the dreaded Al-Shabaab in a plot to assassinate him and remove him from the presidency. From “President” Peter Mutharika’s speech and demeanour as he tried to comment on the protests and civil unrest temperatures rising in Lilongwe, it is clear that looming large and formidable on his mind is the prospect of having to lead a nation which refuses to give him a clear and legitimate governing mandate.
On 20 June that lack of mandate was underlined a huge turnout of protesters in Malawi’s four largest cities, Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba. They were then followed by a decision by the High Court of Malawi a day later, overruling Mutharika’s objections to have a petition presented by opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM party to go to a full hearing on whether the May 21 elections that declared Mutharika the winner were fraudulent and should therefore be nullified.
These are interesting times to be in Malawi. If the podium statements of the main political players are anything to go by, then there is no doubt that the elections on 21 May were seriously corrupted by severe fraud and cheating. The conduct of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) at the tally center did not help matters. After about 75 per cent of the vote had been counted, Peter Mutharika was said to be leading MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera by a small margin. After a long wait and much speculation as to what the final result of the election would be, the Electoral Commission decided inexplicably to simply add exactly 500,000 votes to each of the three leading presidential candidates, a move that resulted in Mutharika being declared the winner amid much protest from his competitors and their supporters.
On the very same day that the court was to give its ruling on the preliminary objections raised by lawyers on behalf of Peter Mutharika and MEC, Peter Mutharika was scheduled to officially open the seating of the newly constituted national assembly and give his State of the Nation Address. This he did, but to only half of the house, as about half of the members of parliament walked out on him, refusing to recognize and legitimize his presidency.
Meanwhile, with parliament in disarray and various pockets of protesting and rioting was still going on in various parts of the country, the constitutional court did deliver its ruling and overruled the preliminary objections, ordering that the full trial regarding the election results should be heard by the constitutional court from 26 June.
Now, there are many issues that arise from the foregoing matters. I however, would like to focus on two of them for now.
Firstly, it amazes me to no end that the quest for fees seems to be the overriding factor among many lawyers that have availed themselves to provide counsel to some parties in these solemn matters of national concern. While I appreciate that every individual is entitled and has a right to counsel and legal redress, I feel betrayed by some members of the legal profession in offering themselves in a matter where all parties agree that fraud and cheating took place in the elections. Perhaps this is the old ethical challenge of legal practice that still eludes a fair solution: the notion that a lawyer should possess a moral campus and perhaps reject causes and clients that seem immoral. Indeed it is a matter of befuddlement to observe that it was a justice of the Supreme Court, sitting as the chair of the Malawi Electoral Commission, who somehow decided that elections that were marred by the widespread use of the correcting fluid “Tipp-ex” should be acceptable in the first place.
And then other senior members of the Malawian Bar have come out in defence of a winner declared under such circumstances. I would have thought that it would be the interests of Malawi as a nation and the right of the citizens to have a free and fair elections that all lawyers would put first as officers of the court. It seems to me that, perhaps predictably as I think about it, that has become a secondary point, sacrificed on the altar of appeasement and a search for political favours.
The second issue is just as important. It is about the parties that are fierce rivals but now have to work together in the interest of the majority of the concerned voters. In the fight for the truth to really be revealed about what went wrong with the election, Peter Mutharika’s win is being contested by MCP and UTM parties. Their petitions were ordered to be heard as one by the high court, forcing the two parties to work together in the quest for the justice that the majority of Malawian voters are looking for.
On the other hand, Malawians have been using their constitutional right to demonstrate against what is obviously a below average performance by the Electoral Commission in the last elections. These Malawians belong to different parties. What unites them is the desire to show responsible authorities that they have not given their approval of the elections. Again, on this front, they are being led by the major political parties, MCP and UTM.
Malawian Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have been calling on all concerned Malawians feeling disgruntled to come out onto the streets to demonstrate together for maximum impact. According to the CSOs, doing so doesn’t mean their respective political parties are in political alliance. They just have the same goals of rescuing Malawi from thieves and seeking justice. They are taking pains to underline the fact that UTM and MCP cannot afford to be outshining each at this crucial time as doing so will only divide them and let those that stole the election get away with it.
The Civil Society observations come after it emerged that the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is positioning its candidate, Dr Lazarus Chakwera, as the principle litigant and reducing his counterpart, UTM president Saulosi Chilima, to an auxiliary comrade in this battle for justice. From numerous fronts, both by legitimate supporters and party cadets, a campaign has been underway designed to customize a belief into the Malawian electorate that the MCP won the polls and that this fight for justice is aimed at restoring that ‘victory’ unto them.
How they think by doing so they will not destabilize the purported working relationship with their UTM counterparts in this fight for justice is what any sound mind would be willing to learn. Hence the civil society appeal that a partnership in circumstances such as this one needs to be bolstered with steady cohesion that projects undoubted mutual sacrifice and fairly distributed expectations of possible gain. Contrary to that crucial requirement and expectation, the MCP has embarked on what would be described as un-welcome project of impressing that it is them who won and got robbed of victory through the fraud which they are commonly tackling with the UTM. This is entirely unhealthy pursuit fuelled by an amount of greed that betrays the prospects of national interest.
Thus, with the main opposition at once seemingly together and not really together, concerned Malawians can only count on themselves. Hence the protests, which ironically, have seen support from the very political parties as well.
It is also a matter of concern that Malawians obviously cannot count on the lawyers as officers of the court, either. Not when their own attorney general cites non-existent rules in court with the aim of cheating the system to ensure that a president alleged to have stolen an election victory stays in power. The CSOs probably have it right. Malawians need to stand up and fight for themselves.
Perhaps it is necessary then to remind those participating in these unprecedented events in Malawi’s history that this matter is a very solemn one and the stakes are higher than they have ever been for Malawi. Those privileged to take part, be they judges, lawyers, petitioners and respondents have the most sacred duty to serve Malawi as country and put it on a just path that will ensure that coming generations of Malawians are well served.
I can only hope that they all will put personal interests aside and deal with the matters in a manner that ensures justice- the just that the Malawi electoral commissions failed to deliver through the elections should not be denied Malawian twofold because of the personal egos of competing politicians or the greedy agendas of lawyers.