There were audible sighs of relief when ballot papers for next Tuesday’s election arrived from Dubai yesterday. When the constitutional court in early February annulled last year’s Presidential election and ordered a re-run, it allowed 150 days for this to be done. However, instead of using the available time to prepare for the election in an orderly way, the Government chose to use the time to attempt to frustrate or overturn the court judgement.
Hence everything is being done at the last minute. The Malawi Electoral Commission, which might normally expect to have around two years to prepare to conduct an election, was appointed less than two weeks before the polling day. Until yesterday it hung in the balance whether or not the election could be funded, with the Government pleading lack of money.
Meanwhile the Government picked yet another fight with the Judiciary by sending the Chief Justice and one of his colleagues on enforced leave pending requirement, effectively firing them. This in turn has given rise to further court action as the Constitution does not give the Executive any authority to take such action. It has been widely seen as an assault on the independence of the Judiciary with the Malawi Law Society, the Chief Justices of Southern Africa and even the Commonwealth condemning the undemocratic move. Even more eye-catching were the hundreds of lawyers who took to the streets, in their gowns and wigs, to demonstrate in defence of judicial independence.
Even the churches have not been immune from the shenanigans, with some perceived to have been bought or used by a political party to campaign on its behalf. Thankfully others have taken a non-partisan stance and have offered a prophetic critique from a faith perspective with a view to upholding fundamental values that are under threat.
As a result of the shenanigans it has been very much an on-off election and even now no one is 100% sure if it will go ahead on Tuesday. But there is a deep longing among Malawians that it will take place, bring a decisive result and provide a way forward for the country. The heroes of the past year have been the ordinary people of Malawi who have been patient, constitutional and determined as they have sought to steer their country through a political maelstrom.
When we first came to Malawi, the President was a medical doctor whose regime ended up torturing thousands of innocent citizens. Now we have a President who is a lawyer who has ended up trying to defy the rule of law. Poised to be the next President is a pastor – what will the outcome be?