Malawi court nullifies President Mutharika’s 2019 victory

Malawi’s Constitutional Court on Monday annulled the May 2019 presidential vote that declared Peter Mutharika winner and ordered fresh elections within 150 days.

Vatican News – Vatican City /Reuters – Lilongwe

In a marathon ten-hour ruling, the Malawi court ruled Monday that President Mutharika was not duly elected as President of Malawi. This followed a months-long court case brought by opposition parties who cited widespread irregularities. The two leading opposition candidates Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima teamed up to mount a legal challenge to Mutharika’s victory.

Mutharika got 38% while Lazarus Chakwera of the opposition polled 35%. Former Vice president Saulos Chilima came third with 20%. Four other candidates collectively got about 6%.

Unanimous verdict

In a unanimous decision, a panel of five judges ordered that a new presidential vote be held within 150 days.

“It is almost impossible to have an election free of irregularities,” said Justice Healey Potani, who headed the panel. “However, in the present matter, our finding is that the anomalies and irregularities have been so widespread, systematic and grave such that the integrity of the result was seriously compromised, and can’t be trusted as the will of voters of the 21 May 2019 election.”

Tipp-Ex irregularities

The five-judge panel heard arguments that the President and the Electoral Commission rigged the vote. Both the President and the Electoral Commission deny wrongdoing. Nevertheless, Malawi’s Election Commission acknowledged receiving 147 reports alleging irregularities including the use of a correction fluid – known by the brand name ‘Tipp-Ex’ to modify some results.

Months long demonstrations

As the court case dragged on, it was accompanied by determined street protests that sometimes turned violent, as demands for the resignation of Electoral Commission Chairwoman, Jane Ansah grew. The Malawi Human Rights Commission late last year released a report accusing state police of serious human rights abuses, including rape and assault, in one confrontation.

The Monday landmark ruling described the conduct of the head of Electoral Commission as very lacking and incompetent.

Parliament must enable 50 +1 vote

With the ruling, the status in the Presidency and Vice presidency reverts to what it was before the May 2019 elections. However, the ruling does not invalidate decisions made by the Presidency from the time he was sworn-in. The verdict also urged parliament to enable relevant acts of parliament that would ensure the use of the 50+1 electoral system.

The court further directed parliament to consider recalling the current electoral body, which is headed by Jane Ansah, to “ensure smooth conduct of fresh elections.”

The streets in Lilongwe and the commercial capital, Blantyre were unusually quiet ahead of the ruling. Many businesses were shut, fearing violence and looting from supporters of the losing side. Overnight, on Monday, there were some jubilation in the opposition United Transformation Movement Party (UTM) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) strongholds.