By Penelope Paliani-Kamanga
Lilongwe - The Malawi Electoral Commission last week hosted the ECF-SADC 21st annual general conference in Blantyre, amid chaotic protests by Human Rights Defenders Coalition who wants the country’s electoral chairperson, Jane Ansah, to resign on claims that she messed up the 2019 polls.
HRDC chairperson, Billy Mayaya, had said earlier on that the grouping was seeking electoral justice through the forum pertaining to the tripartite elections that took place in the country.
“It was embarrassing for Ansah to chair and host a conference which seeks to advance credible elections in Southern Africa when she mismanaged Malawi elections results,” said Mayaya.
But the HRDC failed to present the petition after the protests turned violent, which led to Mayaya being hacked in the head. He ended up hospitalised. The HRDC clashed with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party supporters who were also marching to the trade fair grounds where the vice president was opening an agriculture show.
The chaos saw the police throwing tear gas at the country’s leading referral hospital where it was alleged that a five-year old boy died and that a pregnant woman was rushed to the emergency room after fainting due the teargas.
But earlier on HRDC chairperson, Timothy Ntambo, in an interview with one of the leading newspapers in Malawi, The Daily Times, accused ECF-SADC of taking Africans for granted raising concern over SADC’s silence on Malawi’s electoral stalemate.
“To say the least, we have not heard anything from them and yet they have the audacity to come here and hold a conference. And now we know that even SADC is behind this issue of giving Jane Ansah consolation and comfort. They know that whatever happens in Malawi, it will set precedence in their countries,” said Mtambo.
“He said as a people, they did not have issues with SADC but thought that SADC was being insensitive.
“As a country, we have been looking for people who would come to engage our leaders so that they should be at peace with their people rather than coming in to pretend as if all is well when nothing is well. We expect SADC leaders to be responsible,” Mtambo said.
But speaking at the conference, Malawi’s vice president Everton Chimulirenji said the meeting offered an opportunity for member states to come up with practical and realistic solutions to challenges facing the management of elections.
“This meeting has come at a right time when we have just conducted elections in South Africa, Mauritius and Malawi this year. We are also having elections in Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia later this year. As such this is the appropriate time for all the stakeholders to reflect on our past,” said the VP.
Speaking at the opening of the conference, ECF-SADC executive committee chairperson, Notemba Tjipeuja, said they were not in Malawi to comment on the impasse.
“We are here to host the conference which was planned long time ago. We are aware of the ongoing court cases that are happening in Malawi and we understand that commenting on the cases that are in court is sub judice so we are not prepared as a forum to make any comment on the matter,” she said.
The SADC Secretariat earlier clarified that the ECF was not an organ or affiliate of the regional bloc despite using the name SADC.
Ansah told the media after the opening of the conference that Malawi’s hosting of the conference was a pre-arranged affair, hence it was only fair for the MEC to host the event and that it was not necessarily an endorsement of the electoral process in the country.
Ansah, who has since been elected SADC-ECF president, challenged electoral commissions in the SADC region to deliver credible elections for peace and coexistence to continue in the region.
She said the conference served as a platform whereby electoral management bodies shared knowledge and skills so as to improve the delivery of elections in their respective jurisdictions.
“It is also a platform where we critique each other, pointing out the shortcomings on a number of electoral thematic areas, with a view to improving election management in our respective countries. By doing this, we are not undermining ourselves but we are helping each other sail towards the ideal whereby we can continue delivering credible elections in our countries,” said Ansah.
She said that the SADC region was enjoying stability and peace, which she said the regional electoral management bodies shared a portion of credit
“Electoral management bodies have contributed to the sustenance of peace in the region. You will agree with me that no matter how well governed a country might be, it is not a democracy if those that are governing are not placed in power by the will of the people. Elections are, therefore, the fundamental bedrock of any democracy.
For the past three months, Ansah has defied calls for her to resign and last week she is made her first public appearance since June.
Mutharika’s challengers, his former vice-president Saulos Chilima who contested on UTM Party ticket, and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate, Lazarus Chakwera, are also challenging the results in court. A five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court is hearing the case.
Ansah, a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, is on record as having said she will not resign unless the court finds her in the wrong.
Mutharika also told the BBC that he cannot fire Ansah.
Besides the court process and demonstrations, influential groups such as the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) are also engaging the political leaders in a dialogue process.
Police stepped up security at Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre where the conference was taking place.
Southern Region police spokesperson, Ramsy Mshani, said they had stepped up security to ensure the safety of delegates.
“We have visitors and such being the case, we have beefed up security. What we are saying is that we have delegates and to ensure their safety, we need to step up security,” Mshani said.
ECF-SADC is a network of electoral management bodies from 16 SADC countries; Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Eswatini, Zambia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe.