|Legal hurdles dog Malawi polls
by Kondwani Chirambo
BLANTYRE, 18 June 1999
Malawis Electoral Commission has until midnight Friday to announce final results or stand in breach of the countrys constitution.
Faced with the sluggish pace of vote counting from Tuesdays election, Commision officials are visibly worried about the implication of delay beyond the time-frame stipulated by the constitution. Legal experts say the whole exercise may collapse under the weight of legal action from disaffected parties.
Chief Electoral Officer Roosevelt Gondwe told reporters there were still 131of the 193 constituencies to report back results. Commissioners had been dispatched to the large districts in the country to try and speed up the
process and beat the deadline. The constitution of Malawi allows up to 72 hours for publication of verified results.
We have to publish this results by midnight Friday, Gondwe said Thursday afternoon.
President of the Law Society of Malawi Max Mbendera told SARDC a breach of the constitution would allow parties the right to petition on the basis on anomalous electoral conduct.
It means, it will be actionable in court. The 72 hour deadline is unreasonable because it is not easy for a country with all these limitations-lack of resources, phones to achieve this, and besides, some districts do not have electricity:, Mbendera said.
Mbendera sees another legal impediment regarding the presidential race, unless the incumbent President Bakili Muluzi beats his nearest rival by more than 200,000 votes, he may find his lead snatched away through court action.
The Law Society President said opposition parties are most likely to petition over the more than 170,000 people in the northern and central
districts both opposition strongholds who were not registered because the registration centres opened for two or four days instead of the required
A succesful petition would reduce or wipe out the margin rendering the Muluzi Presidency untenable, he said.
I would say he needs to win by more than 200,000 votes because if the 170,000 is considered in a court action, there is a problem. He needs that
mileage to put it beyond the legal question:, Mbendera explained.
A directive Parliament to the Commision to re-open centres where people were left out in the cold was not carried out as Electoral officials said they
would be unable to import ballot papers from abroad before polling day on 15 June.
By contrast, a polling district in Mwanza, southern region - a stronghold of the ruling party had ballot papers printed locally when it was discovered that they had mixed up party symbols and faces of candidates.
This might also be actionable, he said.
Gondwe confirmed the development in Mwanza but said a decision was made over-night because the situation affected a single station.
The unofficial results point to a close race between the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) and the opposition alliance of Malawi Congress Party
(MCP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD).
Analysts predict a marginal Muluzi victory on a reduced parliamentary majority. In Malawis first pluralist elections in 1994, the UDF won 85, MCP
56 and AFORD 36 seats in the 177-seat national assembly. This time, parties are aspiring to an increased parliament of 193 seats.
Mbendera believes Muluzi may still be able to rule effectively despite the expected combined superiority of opposition members in the national
Its a presidential system where the president chooses his cabinet and where most of the legislation needs only a simple majority. Most of the
issues are developmental issues requiring a two-thirds majority to pass a bill into law are not many. I would say he will be able to rule, the lawyer
President Muluzi post-poned a schedule press conference today where he was expected to dwell on his early lead in the presidential race which by late afternoon was becoming a close run thing.