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Malawi Beyond Judgement Day

Malawi Beyond Judgement Day

Without prejudice to the actual verdict formulation process in the presidential elections case, this article seeks to demonstrate scenarios likely to play out in the aftermath of the court’s verdict. The writer illustrates his opinion on the unpredictability of the UTM-MCP relationship, how parties to the case would likely escalate the matter to a court of superior jurisdiction, how protests could likely resurface and how other court cases may emerge in the post judgement era. The purpose is to raise the alarm on the imminent dangers and stimulate an honest conversation on mitigating such threats. Brace yourself for one long, engaging and very opinionated piece of political writing with great underpinnings on facts. From one amateur to fellow amateurs! Expert feedback is welcome!    

Following last year’s controversial elections, MCP President Lazarus Chakwera and UTM President Saulosi Chilima rushed to court claiming President Peter Mutharika had stolen the vote and that the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) had failed to conduct the election as required. As expected, the MCP and UTM leaders, through counsel, prayed before the courts to have the vote nullified. Mutharika and MEC engaged legal teams to defend their narrative(s) that the elections were “peaceful, credible, free and fair”.

DPP: Under Pressure

MCP, UTM Marriage

Of course, as would be expected, the MCP and UTM were instantly engaged in a ‘Marriage of Convenience’ fueled by the court’s order to merge their cases as they were fundamentally similar. The two opposition parties did not actually have a say in their being brought into this union consummated by High Court Judge Charles Mkandawire.

To this day, no information has been volunteered by the parties with regards to any out of court unity of purpose beyond the day a verdict will be passed, sometime later this month. It is, therefore, only natural and logical to conclude – of course with some dose of caution – that there is no clear road map beyond judgement day between the two.

Very much later in the article, I submit as to why I think the political union between Chilima and Chakwera is highly unlikely.

Chilima and Chakwera: Good, but impossible Combo

Outside of court, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has simultaneously took the lead, organizing protests to express displeasure at how MEC Chairperson Jane Ansah and her team administered the polls. The HRDC alleges the polls were poorly managed and continues to demand that she should step down.

The last time Ansah spoke, she didn’t mince words. She made it clear she wasn’t going anywhere!

The elections matter has been heard before the courts – It’s now a matter of time before the ‘Constitutional Court’, hearing the elections case at the High Court in Lilongwe, announces its verdict.

Obviously, one can only speculate it would go their way, but all in all – the case could either go heads or tail. The court will either uphold President Mutharika’s contested election victory or nullify the vote, thus returning to the state prior to voting (as if an election never occurred).

For those familiar with Strategic Management, you would recall the concept called Scenario Planning. This concept helps managers to look at the available options on a situation to assess, beforehand, if they are viable or not. Of course, I will spare you the boring academic rigor! Take note, however, that Scenario Planning is never about making accurate forecasts, but what could happen.

As I ‘brainstormed’ while preparing to write this article, I “accidentally” developed what I later found to be a comprehensible model to my understanding of a likely Malawi in the post elections judgement era.

My Understanding of Post Verdict Scenario

 

  1. Court Upholds Mutharika’s Election 

In the event that the courts uphold President Peter Mutharika’s election, I believe there would be a high probability that the UTM-MCP ‘Marriage of Convenience’ will continue, or probably get better, all the way to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Out of court, it is within the bounds of reasonable logic to expect some elements to engage in some form of post-verdict protests, notwithstanding assertions to respect the verdict by party leadership.

Get me right, I don’t expect the protests to be about the verdict per se. Apparently, my skepticism is not born of a love for drama and controversy in search of juicy headlines, either. It comes from the fact that while the elections verdict will help in solving the legitimacy puzzle for the office of the president, the issue that prompted the protests was more related to calls for Ansah to step down.

From the word go, the elections case and the protests have mostly been erroneously seen as one and the same thing. However, the two originate from a converged phenomenon (unsatisfactory election results) but have, for all intent and purposes, divergent objectives. The parties that went to court are seeking nullification of the results whereas those who took to the streets protesting want Ansah removed. I see this duality as a threat that requires systematic planning to manage.  

The leadership of the opposition parties party to the matter has both reiterated their confidence and trust in the country’s judicial system, and as such, I see their option for appeal as being part of that process. I however refuse to believe they will be able to contain the rage resulting from the animosity against Ansah.

On the face of it, a ruling upholding Mutharika’s election should vindicate Ansah. At least that’s the understanding those in the governing DPP have been suggesting.

But come to think of it, Ansah’s matter regarding her future as MEC chair did not go to court. This matter was taken to the streets where nothing materialized. In this given situation, resigning will be a question of integrity and personal ethics or choice.

It would be a probable scenario, God forbid, for protests of varying magnitudes to emerge, sticking to the Ansah argument.

Challenging the Constitutional Court’s decision via an appeal will likely not be seen as a solace by the disgruntled.

Therefore, it would be folly to think the end to this debacle starts with the court verdict.

Are the HRDC and political parties willing to let Ansah to stay on after all their effort to remove her? My guess is as good as yours!

Mtambo: It’s Not Personal

Oblivious to the lamentations of the MCP, UTM and, probably the HRDC and some individual citizens, DPP sympathizers will pour into the streets in jubilation the minute the upholding verdict will be passed. Have these DPP supporters been prepared to celebrate responsibly? Have security agencies prepared for such celebratory pouring, which would likely happen instantly? On the other hand, have UTM and MCP supporters been prepared to handle the jest and spoof from their opponents?

I think peace will not only depend on how the DPP prepares its people. It will also depend on how the opposition parties prepare their own supporters in all sincerity. It will depend on how the leaders concede the outcome. It will depend on how security agencies will plan and deploy.

In case an appeal is made, I would expect that the issue of location to hog the spotlight. Of course, we know this is not a factor in the dispensation of justice among the judicial officers, but will be a demand motivated by mere political proclivity.

The fact that there was a tag of war regarding where the case was to be heard in the first instance gives credence to the argument. Of course, eventually, it was decided that the elections case be heard in Lilongwe to the chagrin of DPP sympathizers and to the jubilation of MCP and UTM supporters.

It therefore comes to mind that if there would be an appeal on the case, the decision on whether the Supreme Court of Appeal sits in Lilongwe or Blantyre will matter to the political players inasmuch as it will have nil effect from the justice point of view.

From a political point of view, having the appeal in Blantyre would be seen as favorable among DPP sympathizers while having it in Lilongwe will be viewed as good for MCP and UTM supporters.

Option 2: Nullification of the May 21 Vote 

As explained earlier, it is probable that the court may decide to nullify the elections depending on its wisdom based on the facts presented before it.

In the likely scenario that election results are nullified, we would likely see the UTM and MCP disband their ‘Marriage of Convenience’ and immediately disavow their temporary allegiances before turning their political daggers against each other, literally.

In the likely event this happens, the two parties would essentially give their common opponent, DPP, room to rejoice at the returned division and confusion!

In that scenario, the country will instantly revert to the political campaign mood, where, God forbid, witnessing political violence, mudslinging, character assassination and all sorts of sickening behaviors dominating the Malawian political landscape.

Of course, the best strategy for the DPP to survive in the aftermath of nullification would be seeing more chaos between the MCP and UTM.

It would be folly for the three parties to undermine each other based on the May 21 outcome.

While all the three parties proved their mettle at the ballot, they cannot be fooled into overconfidence and hope to get away with the presidency that easily should there be fresh polls.

Buoyed by incumbency, the DPP will marshal all might and resources to maintain its grip on power. Should there be need to go to the polls, the DPP would likely go dual drive: firstly, rush to court to challenge the decision to nullify the vote. Secondly, activate the electorate in case option A flops.

The DPP still commands great following across the country, but commanding authoritative presence in the southern region.

The UTM has an impressive youthful following among the urban elite and a sizeable following in the rural demographics dotted across the country. The party commands a sizable following in the northern region.

Likewise, the MCP has representation scattered across the country with its strong base being in the central region and parts of the Lower Shire. The MCP is a major political force, with greater potential.

However, I have held this political view for a long time: The best way the MCP can easily dislodge the DPP government is through a united front – no pun intended and for once, let’s pretend tippex wouldn’t be used at all!

Based on the projections of dominance outlined above, it would be more relevant for MCP and UTM to form a coalition of sorts if the two are to remove the DPP. But this is highly unlikely. The reasons are a bit complex but let me try to break it down the way I suspect it would never work.

The MCP President, Chakwera, must form government now if his relevance is to be maintained. The party’s constitution will not allow him to run for presidency again in 2024 – but assuming he won in the national elections now, then he would resuscitate his political survival as the party constitution would then grant him an opportunity to contest again (as amended at the 2014 Convention).

Equally, president Mutharika is barred from contesting for a third term by the republican constitution.

In my view, it would, therefore, be political suicide for Chilima to give leverage to Chakwera at the expense of his own political posterity.

Chilima: Better Off Waiting for 2024?

Among the current political front-runners, he is the only one with a clear shot at the presidency come 2024. Constitutional purging would have dealt with Chakwera and Mutharika.

Therefore, in my view, not only will he claim to be the most prominent personal political brand in 2024, he will also be the ‘most experienced’ in terms of contesting in a presidential election!

It sounds absurd. And Chilima himself might hold a different view to my own on matters pertaining to his political future. But I insist that it makes more political sense for him that the DPP would rather maintain its grip on power than to empower Chakwera – by elongating or probably resuscitating his dying political career on account of the party’s constitutional term limit.

All things being equal, dislodging an MCP government with Chakwera at the helm would be almost impossible for Chilima compared to the DPP without Mutharika. Do you agree?

Therefore, having concluded that an alliance between MCP and UTM is highly unlikely, let’s continue examining scenarios likely in the event of vote nullification.

Just like the UTM and MCP would likely opt to appeal upholding of the outcome of the May 21 vote, the DPP would also have that option for appeal if their vote were nullified.

Here, the question of territorial advantage would also apply – should the court of Appeal sit in Lilongwe or Blantyre? Of course, this will only be about political clout than justice. As expected, the courts will call the shots with little regard for the political whims.

Furthermore, nullification of the elections would mean calling for fresh polls.

Notwithstanding the (hypothetical) victory, the matter presented before the courts was about elections irregularities. Remember, people took to the streets to express dissatisfaction with how MEC under the tutelage of Ansah allegedly failed to administer the polls at the very same time the matter was before the courts.

This likely suggests that the political players will also tussle over Ansah’s legitimacy prior to holding the fresh polls in the event of a nullification verdict.

Despite being embattled, President Peter Mutharika would, as bona fide President, still have the powers to hire and fire. Would he appoint another electoral chair to yield to the demands he has ignored with impunity for many months?

I think it’s tricky but highly unlikely that Mutharika would throw Ansah under the bus unless, of course, she voluntarily resigns, and he accepts her resignation.

APM and Ansah: Each Others Keeper?

While we are at it, would the nullification of the election results imply Chilima as reinstated and Chimulirenji fired?

Surely, these are not scenarios one can just guess off the head.

Experts in the legal field and officers of the courts would have to be called in to interpret the law accordingly. I can predict that if, and should, the court nullifies the presidential election results, odds are that the courts will likely get even busier.

There is high probability that Mutharika would be out to challenge the nullification verdict at the Supreme Court as MCP and UTM supporters, caught in temporary euphoria, will grace the streets celebrating a victory partially won.

At about the same time, Chilima would, if he so desires, be out to evict Chimulirenji from Plot Number 2 to campaign for fresh elections whilst under the wing of the tax payer. Or this this a wrong interpretation of the law?

Ansah, under the protection of her boss, Mutharika, would be battling ‘illegal attempts to fire her’.  She would argue that some ‘strangers with no legitimacy’ are seeking to kick her out of office. I don’t think the option to resign, which has been successfully ignored over the months, would be acceptable at this point.

Should this hypothetical situation come to pass (nullifying the presidential election results), I suspect there would be more anti-Ansah protests on the campaign trail to fresh elections.

Would a repeat election under Ansah be acceptable? In the event Mutharika agrees to appoint another MEC Chair ahead of the fresh elections, would that other appointee be acceptable by the disgruntled stakeholders?

As it turns out, the elections case verdict should not be seen as an end in itself. There are so many scenarios that could come to play. It is only fair that each one of us should sit back, reflect and see if at all there is one thing we can do to help sustain the peace the country currently enjoys.

Some have turned to God in prayer. This is commendable. Actually, some started long before the elections. Others choose to do so in private. Still commendable.

Prayer with little faith is futile. Prayer without fully entrusting God is better than no prayer at all. No one should offer supplication to God hoping that the answer is only favorable. If God is for all, we must acknowledge there will be a time He will bless others, and not us. Our prayers will not be granted all the time. As regards the presidency, its only one at a time!

Any feedback? Contact the author at mallick.mnela@iHubOnline.net or WhatsApp + 265 (0) 999 603 112

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