Malawi's constitutional court cancels presidential vote result

Cheryl Sanders
February 5, 2020

In the meantime the status in the presidency, including the office of the vice president, revert to what it was prior to last year's presidential election. Dissatisfied with the outcome, the two contenders petitioned the court to have the results nullified citing several irregularities.

In a 500 page ruling, the court ruled Mutharika will remain in power until the next election is held within a period of 151 days.

The court faulted the Malawi Election Commission (MEC) for grave deviations and breaches of electoral processes which "were unnecessary in an open democracy as they fundamentally departed from the principle of openness".

Sporadic protests have broken out across the country since Mutharika was declared the victor by a narrow margin in the May 21 presidential elections with 38.5 percent of the vote.

The five judges say the election was invalid and was nullified and Parliament should order fresh elections within 14 days to be held within 150 calendar days.

It had been feared that the verdict would stoke turmoil in the normally peaceful southern African country.

Malawi's opposition leader on Tuesday hailed a landmark court ruling that annulled last year's presidential election and ordered a new vote, telling more than 10,000 celebrating supporters that the verdict was a victory for democracy and Africa.

"Two courts in Africa have now set tougher standards for elections than global election observers, setting the precedent that procedure is as important as the number of votes", Mr. Cheeseman said on Twitter. However, in the present case, the irregularities were widespread and systematic and affected the result. It said that the Malawi Electoral Commission had discharged its duties with negligence and contrary to the constitution of the country. The four other candidates collectively got almost 6%.

In the Malawi situation, however, analysts are more optimistic that the fresh election could produce a fairer result. "The next court can cite Malawi and Kenya", Cheeseman said. The opposition boycotted the second election, leaving the results tainted and disputed.

The months-long court case was accompanied by sometimes violent street protests demanding the resignation of the electoral commission chairwoman, Jane Ansah.

The two opposition candidates in recent days called for calm.

"We are not making any judgments - that's a matter that will arise later", he said. He also asked the Malawi police service, which was supported by the military as unrest grew, to stop thugs who might want to take advantage of any public outcry after the ruling. We must not lose this gem. "We will use our own means to make sure these people are taken to account", Timothy Mtambo, the coalition's chairman, told Al Jazeera.

The global community, including the United Nations and African Union, issued several statements ahead of the vote urging people across Malawi to uphold the rule of law and remain calm.

A joint statement by diplomats from the United States, Britain, the European Union, Japan and others acknowledged the tensions around the ruling.

"Malawi can draw on an impressive history of institutions and leaders stepping forward to safeguard your democracy and ensure peaceful resolution for internal tensions", the statement said, urging all parties to respect the court's decision, as well as the right to appeal.

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