Malawi’s constitutional court nullified its May 21 presidential elections on Monday (Feb. 3) and ruled Peter Mutharika was unduly elected president.
The court also ruled that fresh elections be held within 150 days (five months). It is the first time ever in Malawi that a presidential election has been nullified. It was a unanimous decision by a panel of five judges.
“We hold that first respondent was not duly elected as president of Malawi. As a result, we here by order nullification of the elections. We further order that a fresh election be held in accordance to the law and pursuant to directions we will make,” said Justice Healey Potani who was the lead judge of the panel.
The court said the widespread use of correction fluid to fix the numerous return ballots was a strong indication that the elections were highly flawed. The use of duplicate sheets to determine the winner was also condemned by the court. Such irregularities happened mainly because the voting system in Malawi is still paper-based.
The case which has been in court since August last year, ended up there when two opposition candidates Saulos Chilima and Lazarus Chakwera sought a nullification of the elections highlighting massive irregularities that took place during the process. The two main opposition figures have long claimed the election was terribly flawed since the voting process began in May 2019. The court has ruled that the Malawi Electoral Commission pay costs to the two petitioners.
In the election results, Mutharika was said to have won with 1.9 million votes representing 38.57%, narrowly ahead of Malawi Congress Party’s Chakwera who came second with 1.8 million votes representing 35.41%. Chilima who was the vice president during the election in May contested against his boss and came third by getting 1 million votes representing 20.24%. However, following the nullification, this means Chilima is now again the vice president.
President Mutharika, 79, was first elected to office in May 2014. He was previously an adviser to his brother, the former president Bingu wa Mutharika who died in 2012. After overcoming early complaints and protests by his opponents disputing the validity of the election results Mutharika was sworn in for a second term just a few days later on May 31.
The new ruling can be appealed to Malawi’s Supreme Court. Security across the country was tight as there were fears that there would be riots regardless of the court outcome. Many people didn’t go into work on Monday for fear of violent street protests from either side.
The US assistant secretary of State for Africa, Tibor Nagy called on Malawians to respect the rule of law “Now that the constitutional Court has issued its ruling, we call upon all Malawians to respect the decision of the court and to adhere to the path outlined in Malawi’s constitution and electoral laws,” Nagy tweeted
Meanwhile, the May 2019 European Union Election Observer Mission report on Malawi elections raises questions about the usefulness of international election observers. After the election, the EU Mission released a preliminary statement indicating the elections were “well managed, inclusive, transparent and competitive.”
Just last month the EU Mission canceled its plans to present a fresh report on the 2019 Malawi elections following protests from politicians and other stakeholders in the country.
“The intended presentation of the report is careless and amounts to extra-judicial gimmick to meddle with influence pending litigation. I condemn this in strongest terms.” Said UTM leader Saulosi Chilima last month.
He then asked the mission to postpone the presentation of the report until judgment in the elections case is delivered saying it was the only reasonable thing to do.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has demanded Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Jane Ansah step down following the court judgement for a fresh election. HRDC says it is ready to hold more protests if the demands are not met.
Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech and innovation in your inbox