Electoral dispute resolution

We have finished looking at the roles of various stakeholders in promoting women participation in elections. This week look we at the effectives of available electoral dispute resolutions.

This article has been motivated by the trend whereby cases challenging elections results are being dismissed or withdrawn from the courts; three cases this year alone.

In any election, disputes are bound to occur and it is imperative for any electoral commission to set up mechanism for dispute handling. For the May 2014 elections, the MEC set up a Complaints Handling Unit comprising four lawyers. This unit handled 360 complaints of which only 26 ended up in court.

Out of the 26 cases, nine cases have been dismissed with costs in favour of the MEC while 10 cases were withdrawn by mutual consent. Only one case is still in court awaiting judgment and six cases are still in the High Court (2 in Zomba and 4 in Blantyre) waiting for hearing. There are two 2 cases that are in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

This trend now sparks the debate as to what would be the better way of handling electoral disputes. The statistics show that the alternative model employed by MEC was effective in handling and settling disputes. Using the Complaints Units was a cheaper and effective avenue for the candidate. There were no fees unlike when they take cases to the courts where they have to meet legal fees. The unit was also on time to settle the disputes unlike the courts where some of the cases are still in progress more than 19 months after the polls.

The rate and reasons for case dismissals also reveal that some of the litigations are done in haste without analysing issues. Why should 19 out of 26 cases be withdrawn or dismissed in the courts? This gives a strong justification that the alternative complaints handling method set by the Commission is a better and right way to go than rushing to the courts. Experience has shown that most of the complaints that are brought to MEC border on misunderstanding of procedures and practices. That is why many people did not pursue their complaints with the courts. After the Complaints Handling Unit explained to them, they understood.

As we make steps towards 2019, stakeholders should familiarize themselves with the laws, practices and regulations about elections. This will help avoid having non-issues being brought up as disputes.

Next week we look at the practice direction by the Judiciary regarding elections cases and how it has been applied in respect to the 2014 elections cases.