Malawi names new electoral chief to right the wrongs of ‘tippex’ election
In an announcement that was, for once, highly regarded by both the ruling party and the opposition, Malawi President Peter Mutharika appointed High Court Judge Chifundo Kachale as the new chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), to oversee the presidential election rerun slated for less than a month away.
Kachale was appointed with immediate effect on Sunday.
“He has a strong academic legal background, a PhD from the University of London School of African Studies (SOAS), and he has written on judicial activism and inactivism,” says Dan Banik, political analyst at the University of Oslo.
The President of #Malawi has appointed Justice Chifundo Jairus Kachale as the new head of the Malawi Electoral Commission.— Dan Banik (@danbanik) June 8, 2020
Here is the link to Dr Kachale's PhD thesis at @SOAS on judicial activism/inactivism in Malawihttps://t.co/HQmYVdjyvO pic.twitter.com/0bHqTsTTOf
Banik read part of Kachale’s thesis, where he said he outlined that democracy is a foreign import to Malawi. “He says liberal democracy in Malawi’s constitution was very western— intriguing,” he tells RFI.
The Malawi election will be rerun on 2 July after the constitutional court ruled in February that the May 2019 polls were deeply flawed, due to bias, lack of a majority vote, and incompetence by MEC. That ruling was challenged and the supreme court in April ruled that the vote was to be redone on 2 July.
Local media outlets called the May 2019 polls the “tippex election” referring to the correction fluid, because there were so many inconsistencies in the voter tally, and a number were marked with correction fluid.
Although Kachale’s appointment was lauded, Mutharika also re-appointed commissioners to MEC such as Jean Mathanga and Angelina Kunja from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who were declared incompetent by the court in a ruling about the original polls.
Some have interpreted their reappointment to be a sign that the election will be delayed, says political expert Banik.
“People are wondering if this is a delaying tactic to postpone the election,” he says. “This will make people question the competence of the new commission.”
And with these appointments less than a month before the election, it calls into question if MEC can avoid making the same mistakes with some of the same staff.
“Despite a change in personnel, the institutional weaknesses will remain, and that again will affect the credibility of the new election,” he adds.
Covid-19, funds and vote observer issues
MEC has a long way to go for preparations ahead of the 2 July election, and it will also be working within the confines of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“While there was a call for people to wear masks, every political party is holding mass rallies” without social distancing, says Banik.
Photos have emerged on social media of Mutharika’s vice presidential candidate campaigning with a photo of the president— Mutharika has not been seen on the campaign trail.
The vote rerun requires new funds, and it is not evident where this money will come from, says Banik.
The EU indicated earlier that it was using its resources to combat Covid-19 and could not help support Malawi’s polls.
Local media reported late last month that the head of the European Union mission to Malawi will not send observers from the EU to the polls, as they had not been invited by MEC.
Regional bodies Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union said they were unsure of sending observation missions to Malawi, while the Commonwealth indicated that lack of flights due to coronavirus as well as lockdown in their own countries made it difficult.
While the upcoming election preparation will have to surmount a number of challenges, the landmark constitutional court decision nullifying the original result is not a small feat, says Banik.
“There is a positive aspect to the court decision and the upcoming election—this gave a lot of young people hope that they can act to make a change,” he says.
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