As the country gears up itself against the deadly Coronavirus outbreak, debate has started on possibility of postponing the July 2 Fresh Presidential Elections as a preventative measure with electoral stakeholders raising the issue during a National Elections Consultative Forum (NECOF) on Friday in Mangochi.
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) organised the meeting held in Mangochi to brief electoral stakeholders on the state of preparedness for elections.
Taking his turn during the meeting, Reverend Mwayi Kamuyambeni representing the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said the country needed to reflect soberly on whether to continue with preparations or wait until the global lock downs are over.
The members also suggested to the electoral body to go to the court and seek an extension to the 150 days order so as to allow for MEC to hold the polls at a later date when the virus threat is contained.
In her response MEC chairperson, Justice Jane Ansah said her organization would not go to the court again because it went there twice but has not been successful.
“It is up to the citizens here also to take action to go to the court and seek relief that with the current threat the Commission may not hold an elections that adheres to all the provisions of the law should cases be reported. As for the MEC we can’t go again because we have been unsuccessful,” she said.
A few weeks ago after the ruling of the Constitutional Court, the MEC had appealed for stay order of the judgement pending appeal.
MEC also argued that the elections could not be held within 150 if the law would be followed to the letter and wanted to do the elections in October.
Ansah conceded that should the country lockdown, the elections would be affected because most of the materials and equipment are bought from abroad.
“We buy almost everything from outside the country. There are companies that supply us locally for example pens but you will find that they also buy them from outside.
“We can also not print ballot papers locally, because we don’t have a security printer. If it comes to such a situation whereby, we cannot get anything from outside the country we will have no option but succumb and postpone the polls,” she said.
Another delegate wondered why the Malawi Electoral Commission was going ahead with the elections when government had banned gatherings of more than 100 people wondering how the political parties would conduct campaign.
In her remarks, MEC chairperson said the proposal for postponement was for all stakeholders to reflect on and make their positions known even through the media.
She had earlier on suggested that members break into groups and come up with a resolution on whether to postpone the elections or not.
However, members felt they needed more time to consult their principals and constituents.
The stakeholders said they need to consult health experts.
“We are not health experts. We can’t tell if this virus has an implication worth suspension of the election or not. We will give our position after we make consultation,” said Kandi Padambo, the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) chairperson.
In his contribution, Senior Chief Lukwa of Kasungu advised the Commission to have a contingency electoral calendar apart from the current which might be followed in case of the Coronavirus hits the country.
In her speech at the NECOF meeting, Ansah said the Commission was taking measures to ensure that all electoral staff and people who come for registration are protected from catching the virus.
“The Coronavirus has affected a lot of activities, and elections are not an exemption. The MEC will undertake to ensure the safety of its staff, both at headquarters and in the field, during the implementation of the electoral process.
“There will be masks, gloves, water and hand sanitisers for use in all places. And there will be strict observance of distances between individuals as well as gatherings of less than 100 people during meeting,” she said.
The MEC chairperson urged all electoral stakeholders, including political parties, to join hands with the Commission in observing and applying the same measures in all their undertakings as directed by the State President.
If the fresh presidential elections will be postponed, it will be a second time in recent history that polls have been postponed after launch.
MEC recently postponed by-elections in Lilongwe South Constituency few days to polling because of violence.
In 2010 the Commission also postponed Local Government Elections after government expressed that it had no funding as the country was facing hunger and the money had to be used to buy relief maize.
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