By Duncan Mlanjira
Justice Jane Ansah SC announced her resignation as Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson in an interview on the state broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) on Thursday, just eight days before Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) planned to have nationwide protests on May 28 to force her and her fellow commissioners to step down.
And this is also after Vice-President Saulos Chilima planned to return to court to press President Peter Mutharika to remove Ansah and her fellow commissioners following Parliament, the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeal finding them incompetent and their positions untenable.
Chilima, backed by electoral stakeholders, argue that Ansah should not preside over the fresh presidential elections, now scheduled for June 23.
But Ansah said on her interview with MBC that her decision to ask President Peter Mutharika to relieve her of her duties was solely based on the Supreme Court of Appeal ruling and not the demonstrations which HRDC planned to stage.
However, there are conflicting opinions that in declaring that she has since submitted her decision to the President, then she has not followed proper procedures because her nomination to the post of MEC chairperson was done by the Judicial Service Commission and approved by the President.
According to an opinion by Justice Dunstain Mwanungulu, quoting section 76 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, the Judicial Service Commission nominates the chairperson from among its judges and as such she should have addressed her resignation to the Commission first, which in turn informs the President.
Ansah has been the target of protests calling for her resignation over her handling of last year’s disputed election and in reacting to her assertion that she has decided to step down not because of pressure, is something the public is taking with a pinch of salt.
“It’s always leaders’ language when they escape pressure as a source of their resignation,” says Madalitso Mwenda on social media.
“Kamuzu Banda, in his last days received pressure from Malawians but he claimed he stepped aside not because of people’s pressure but because of his constitutional mandate.
“In 1971, Richard Nixon by then the US president, claimed to have resigned not by peoples pressure but in his own capacity [after the Watergate Scandal].
“Similary, Antonio de Salazah, the then explorer claimed to have stepped down not because of pressure but sickness.
“I am not, therefore, surprised that Jane Ansah claims to have resigned by virtue of the Supreme Court of Appeal rulling but openly and nakedly, we all know people’s pressure grew wings on her,” opines Mwenda.
Writing to Dr Chikosa Silungwe, legal counsel for UTM president Saulos Chilima, who planned to take legal action to force Ansah out of her role as MEC chairperson, Aisha Awali Mustapha from Chinamwali, Zomba was skeptical of Ansah’s Thursday resolution — thinking this could be a smokescreen.
“I understand that this week you commenced legal proceedings that sought court’s intervention in the capacity of MEC Commissioners to execute their duties as espoused by the relevant laws.
“Counsel, by and large, I conceive this as part of the grand scheme to tactically subject you to withdraw your case as the substantive issues that compelled you to seek legal redress have apparently been resolved on the part of MEC.
“She expects you to withdraw the case. After this, as no press briefing or any evidential material purporting to validate her resignation has been made public, she will come out of her cocoon to refute the news item carried by MBC regarding her resignation.
“Definitely, MBC does not mind to be used as a pawn. By this time, when you will have danced to her tune, there will not be enough time to start the whole case all over again up to its logical conclusion such that she will still act as the MEC chairperson.
“So, in short, Ansah is trying to dodge your case so that upon your withdrawal, she might refute the news and still proceed in her duties up to the very end of her contract.
“If you think I am daydreaming, just take a look at how she has behaved in the past 12 months. At first she explicitly said that she is going to resign if the Constitutional Court found that MEC did not carry out its duties as espoused by the Constitution and relevant laws subordinate to the supreme law but after the said court’s ruling she remained adamant of her earlier decision.
“And even hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling, she remained equivocal.
“To this end, Counsel, I think she knows that her weak spot is her legal demeanor. She doesn’t care about her moral obligations and this is why she never moved an inch when demonstrations were organised to force her to resign.
“However, with the legal battle you commenced, she knew that you had hit hard on her weakest spot. To offset that, she would want to dodge you as explained earlier on. Do not withdraw that case Counsel,” pleaded
During the interview, Ansah said: “I have fought a good fight and I go happy. I have worked with clean hands and I have no skeletons in my cupboard.”
HRDC president Gift Trapence told told AFP news agency that he welcomed Ansah’s resignation as “this is what Malawians have been wanting for all along”.
During a news conference in Lilongwe on Monday, Trapence had said the impunity and arrogance being displayed by Ansah and her team could not go unchallenged as apart from the street ptotests, HRDC was engaging their lawyers to interpret the laws concerning the legality of MEC commissioners’ tenure.
“…We also want all the commissioners to go so that a new MEC can be constituted to allow the country to hold free and credible elections,” he had told the journalists.