The results of Malawi’s May 2019 presidential vote, which saw Peter Mutharika re-elected for a second term, was annulled by Malawi’s Constitutional Court on Monday, February 3. A panel of five judges ruled that the elections results were mired with a substantial amount of fraud and malpractice. The panel found that there had been considerable usage of correction fluid on ballet papers, duplications of result sheets and unsigned result forms. The prospects for opposition leaders Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima have now been boosted as the panel announced that a new election will now be held within the next 150 days. Both Chakwera and Chilima mounted the legal case that led to the annulment of last year’s election.
Justice Healey Potani, who headed the panel declared: “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.” Members from both major opposition parties have praised this outcome as a great win for democracy. In regards to the ruling, Nic Cheeseman, an expert of African Politics at the University of Birmingham, stated that, “[t]his draws a line in the sand. It says that elections have to be better and it reinforced a precedent set by judges who annulled elections in Kenya in 2017 on similar grounds.”
The annulment of the 2019 Malawian Presidential vote is a monumental proceeding in boosting the legitimacy of democracy in Africa. The proceeding demonstrates that result tampering will not be tolerated within Malawi and that above all else, the will of the people must be respected. While the new results could once again re-elect President Mutharika, this will be done through an assured election process and within the parameters of democracy. Going forward this case can be cited by any future election results in Africa, and the rest of the world, which are taken to court due to allegations of ballot tampering.
At the time of President Mutharika’s re-election there were a great number of riots in protest of the results and the alleged mismanagement of the election process by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). The protests called for the resignation of Jane Ansah, the chairwoman of the MEC, and also for the results of the election to be appealed. Previous election results in Malawi have been heavily disputed in the past, however this is the first time an election result has been successfully overturned. This has now resulted in the second annulment of an African presidential election within three years, following the precedent setting result of the 2017 annulling of the Kenyan election.
As the new election draws closer the panel of judges have declared that President Mutharika will remain in his post until the process begins. However, President Mutharika has come out to say that he will challenge the decision handed down by the panel. Experts have tipped that this will likely lead to a new wave of protests and could prove detrimental to any hope President Mutharika had of keeping his re-elected position.