/ 29 May 2014

Malawi’s presidency in legal limbo

Malawi's Presidency In Legal Limbo

An initial vote count in Malawi’s controversial presidential elections has been completed but the result will not be released until court challenges to the disputed ballot have been resolved, an official said this week.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the unofficial count showed that Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was in the lead with 36% of the vote, followed by Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party with 28%. President Joyce Banda was in third place with 20% of the vote.

Banda attempted to declare the vote “null and void”, saying it was marred by “serious irregularities”, and court orders and injunctions have flown back and forth. The commission said it would conduct a re-count and asked the court to delay an announcement of the results.

The official said lawyers for the electoral body were trying to make sense of the court orders before deciding official next steps.

“We are confused with this drama of injunctions and stay orders,” said Gideon Simbeye, a farmer from the northern district of Rumphi, about 500km from Lilongwe. “We want a peaceful resolution to this dispute. We are lucky that President Joyce Banda is a Christian, otherwise if it was someone else, there could have been a state of emergency.”

In the southern city of Blantyre, businesses that were open reported a drop in sales and many shops remained closed for fear of looting.

European Union observer mission chief Véronique de Keyer said that the Malawi Electoral Commission had been “transparent in their communication”. “They have admitted problems and apologised to Malawians and stakeholders whenever required. Everything was presented in front of the nation. So I am impressed,” she said.

George Banda, a street vendor from Lilongwe, said: “We voted. There is no need for a re-count. Let us accept the results and move forward. The delay is affecting many things.”

International law expert
Born in Kamoto village in the populous southern district of Thyolo in 1940, Mutharika, a law professor, entered the public eye in 2007 as a consultant to the government in its constitutional review project.

He later became a legal adviser to his brother, then-president Bingu wa Mutharika. 

Mutharika obtained his law degree from the University of London in 1965 and his master’s and doctorate from Yale University in the United States over the next three years. He taught at several universities in Africa and other parts of the world. 

He entered politics full-time in 2008 when he stood successfully in the parliamentary race for Thyolo East. He then served as a Cabinet minister in various portfolios during his brother’s rule as president.

Mutharika’s departure for the US when he was education minister at a time when the University of Malawi was fighting the DPP government over academic freedom saw him portrayed him as an “ostrich” in some media.

Following his brother’s death in April 2012, the DPP immediately made him its interim leader.

Observers say Mutharika’s expertise in international law will help to strengthen Malawi’s relations with other countries and that his international exposure and network will ensure an effective foreign policy.

A widower, with three adult children living and working in the US, Mutharika has divided his time between Malawi and the US.

He renounced his US green card at the start of the election campaign, following pressure from rival political parties.