Govt pokes Veep Chilima for second round, AG appeals UTM Registration Case at High Court

The State has revived its legal battle with newly formed United Transformation Movement (UTM) through an appeal against the November 2 High Court order to register the movement as a political party within seven days.

Through senior State advocate in the Attorney General’s (AG) Chambers Neverson Chisiza, the State is challenging High Court Judge John Chirwa’s ruling that the registrar of political parties’s decision not to register the movement which is promoting Vice-President Saulos Chilima’s presidential ticket in the May 21 Tripartite Elections was erroneous.

The judge said the decision was “unreasonable and unjustifiable”.

Filed as Miscellaneous Civil Cause Number 113 of 2017 in the High Court of Malawi, the State also wants the court to suspend the order to register UTM pending the determination of the appeal.

The State, among other grounds, argues that the judge misdirected himself at law and fact in finding that the registrar of political parties, in exercising his statutory duties, should have restricted himself to what was presented to him and ignore what was in public domain.

Michael Goba Chipeta, lawyer representing the Vice-President who challenged the rejection of the application in court, yesterday confirmed being served with a notice of appeal.

He said the Vice-President’s legal team would respond to the notice of appeal.

But Chipeta said the notice of appeal, on its own, does not change the judgement of the High Court.

He said:  “So, the judgement is still in force and we expect the registrar [of political parties] to comply with the ruling.

“We have also been served, in addition to the notice of appeal, an application by Attorney General to stay execution of the judgement of the High Court.”

When later asked to comment on noted anomalies in the application for appeal, including the date of 2017 when UTM was only formed mid this year and launched on July 21 at Masintha Ground in Lilongwe, Chipeta said those were some of the substantive issues the court will have to look at.

He said: “We can’t discuss these matters in public because it will be subjudice. They are meritorious issues.”

The lawyer was responding to observations that the appeal notice has the year 2017 and the AG as a party to the case when he was not party to the initial case.

But two other lawyers separately observed that the AG’s appeal was directed to the High Court of Malawi instead of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal.

Said one lawyer: “You appeal in a higher court, in this case it should have been the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal. But I cannot discuss these issues further. The lawyers representing the Vice-President and UTM will likely handle that.”

In a separate interview, UTM interim spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga said the State has the constitutional right to appeal against the ruling, but said the movement was not shaken.

In September, deputy registrar of political parties Chikumbutso Namelo wrote UTM following its application for registration, claiming the movement’s use of the abbreviation instead of full name was a deliberate scheme to mislead the registrar as there was already another registered political party with a similar sounding name.

The deputy registrar was apparently referring to United Transformation Party registered by businessperson Newton Kambala, who earlier announced his partnership with UTM though he is yet to deregister his party.

In his challenge against the registrar’s decision, Chilima argued that the registrar erred in law and fact in holding that the name UTM closely resembles that of another political party known as the UTP.

Findings from a survey conducted by Zomba-based Institute of Public Opinion and Research (Ipor) released this week showed that UTM and its leader are the third most popular grouping after the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

The survey report, dated October 28 2018, was conducted between August and September—barely weeks after UTM was launched—to assess the political environment in the country with 10 months to the elections and give an understanding of the political and economic environment in the country.

Previously, several other groups have faced registration hurdles before they were saved by the courts.

In 2003, some elements within the then governing United Democratic Front (UDF) unsuccessfully thwarted attempts by Brown Mpinganjira to register his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) when they registered a political party in the same name then later changed to New Dawn for Africa in another attempt to stop the registration after the High Court intervened.

In 2011, People’s Party, started by the country’s then vice-president Joyce Banda, also had trouble registering the party when the registrar of political parties argued that the abbreviation was too similar to that of the People’s Progressive Movement.

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