Regional media are falling over themselves to praise and welcome the appointment of Judge Chifundo Kachale as the new head of Malawi’s electoral commission. Judge Kachale was named by President Peter Mutharika last weekend along with the rest of the commission – some new names and some old. Judge Kachale takes over from Judge Jane Ansah whose commission came in for scathing criticism by the country’s supreme court for its handling of the now-discredited 2019 elections.
Despite criticism by the high court that initially found the 2019 elections defective, the head of Malawi’s electoral commission, Judge Jane Ansah refused to stand down. She steadily maintained she would not quit saying she and her commission had carried out their work properly. But on May 21 the inevitable happened: Judge Ansah resigned and the commission was left without a leader.
Last weekend, President Peter Mutharika announced Judge Chifundo Kachale as her successor and named the rest of the commissioners with whom he will serve. Judge Kachale and his team will now have responsibility for managing what many see as an incredibly difficult task. Not only will the elections be held during a time when Malawi is in the grip of fear and restrictions resulting from Covid-19, but there is also very little time and even less money available for proper preparations.
In addition, the country’s supreme court has made it clear that a new standard will be demanded for the elections to be considered valid. No longer will mistakes – and worse – be overlooked on the grounds that they would not change the outcome of the elections. Instead, the voting, the counting and other procedures must be conducted strictly in accordance with the law.
During the swearing-in proceedings Judge Kachale made clear that he was aware of how much is riding on his shoulders. Among other comments he warned that members of the commission could not serve the interests of ‘specific individuals’ or parties but instead had to serve the interests ‘of the constitution and the public.’
The appointment of Judge Kachale seems to have won support from across the political spectrum. Comments welcoming the news that he was to take over the commission included remarks describing the judge as ‘highly respectable’, and as extremely competent.
Judge Kachale holds a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies in which he focused on constitutionalism in emerging democracies. He is a member of the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment and chairs the Malawi Judiciary Training Committee. Until March 2020 he was a member of Malawi’s Judicial Service Commission, responsible for judicial appointments and recommendations in Malawi.
He is no stranger to the difficulties involved in election management: between December 2019 and February 2020 he worked on an assignment with the National Elections Commission of Sierra Leone in a European Union programme. Its aim was to create the way forward for electoral legal reforms in Sierra Leone following its 2018 elections.
His work has also involved judicial training both locally and internationally as a way of changing legal culture and promoting sound democratic reforms. He is part of the visiting faculty of the Judicial Institute for Africa (Jifa), based at the University of Cape Town.
* The commission's seven members are Justice Chifundo Kachale, Arthur Nanthuru, Steve Duwa, Dr Jean Mathanga, Linda Kunje, Dr Anthony Mukumbwa and Olivia Liwewe.