Malawi Govt defends Kachali’s Electoral Commission role: Activists outraged

Government has defended the appointment of Vice-president Khumbo Kachali to head Malawi’s Electoral Commission (EC), arguing the appointment will ensure smooth preparations for 2014 tripartite elections.

The  government’s stand comes amid criticism from various commentators including political parties, civil society, analysts, and in the middle of rumors that the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) has backtracked on the appointment.

It was reportedly broadcasted on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in the morning of Friday that the appointment of Kachali as responsible for EC was a  “typing error”and that there was no such appointment.

Hours later it was all over the internet with hot debate spilling up on journalists Namisa forum, Facebook and interactive e-forums.

But in interview later with Nyasa Times, Minister of Information and Civic Education, Moses Nkukuyu who is government spokesman said Kachali remains an overseer of EC.

Vice President Khumbo Kachali: Man of controversy

“Am not aware of any retraction and as it stands, the appointment is valid,” Kunkuyu told Nyasa Times.

“The appointment was made to ensure smooth operations of EC despite maintaining its independence. His appointment will not in any way interfere with the operations of EC but help the country to have free and fair elections.

“We want to ensure that EC has all the required resources and that could only happen if the body is placed under a certain branch of government and that is the office of the vice-president. It is just like an entry-centre for EC into government same as the judiciary which is under ministry of justice but still retains its independence,” explained Nkukuyu.

President Banda, in her December 6 cabinet reshuffle, announced that Vice President Khumbo Kachali, among others, will now be responsible for the Commission’s operations.

But the president’s move is in sharp contrast with Section 76, (4) of the Malawi Constitution which stipulates that the “Electoral Commission shall exercise its powers, functions and duties under this section independently of any direction or interference by other authority or any person.”

Worrisome

Observers argue the development is a political scheme by the governing Peoples Party (PP) to fix the 2014 general elections.

They wonder why the president has decided to place the supposedly independent electoral body under an interested politician.

The Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) has described the development as “very worrisome and unwelcome”.

“It is very unwelcome news because our Constitution is quite clear that the body [Electoral Commission] is supposed to be independent and answerable only to Parliament and not to any minister or ministry.

“By placing it under the office of the Vice President it means he will have an overall control of its operations which is constitutionally incorrect. This is a decision that will not be helpful to Malawians,” observed Steve Duwa, MESN Chairperson.

He hinted that as a body that looks at electoral issues in the country, MESN was not at ease to move towards the 2014 general elections with such an arrangement in place.

“It raises a lot of questions and suspicions as to why the president has decided to do this. As MESN we are going to fight this kind of arrangement, we will not allow it to remain as it is,” he asserted.

The vocal chairperson said his organisation will engage the appointing authority to see to it that the situation is corrected.

“There must be a way of correcting this mess that has been created,” he envisaged.

Lawyer and civil rights activist Justin Dzonzi called Kachali’s appointment as “strange” and that it is “outright unlawful.”

University of Malawi senior history lecturer and researcher Professor Chijere Chirwa also wondered why President Banda placed the electoral body under a minister.

Opposiiton Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and other commentators have described the Kachali’s appointment as impediment for the country to have free and fair elections come 2014.

MCP director of research, Joseph Njobvuyalema told the local media that Kachali’s appointment will kill people’s will to participate in the 2014 tripartite elections.

“How could a political figure, somebody who is alleged to have rigged votes before head the Electoral Commission? This will dart people’s will towards tripartite elections. This is questionable and it will be no surprise when people say, it’s the ploy to rig the elections,” said Njobvuyalema.

President Joyce Banda on Thursday removed Kachali as Minister of Health in a cabinet reshuffle and appointed him to be responsible for National Relief and Disaster Management, National Public Events Office, Central Government Stores, Department of Printing Services and Electoral Commission (EC).

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