In historic decision, Malawi annuls presidential election

Malawi’s president, Peter Mutharika, is to face new elections following a unanimous decision by the country’s Constitutional Court to nullify his re-election last year.

The court has ordered that a new election be held within 150 days. “We hold that the first respondent was not duly elected as president of Malawi. As a result, we hereby order the nullification of the elections,” said Judge President Healey Potani.

There were jubilant scenes in the capital Lilongwe as youths and motorists celebrated the historic verdict. This is only the second time in Africa’s history that a judicial intervention has overturned an incumbent’s election victory (the first was in Kenya in 2017).

The five judges — who had complained of attempts to bribe them before their verdict was delivered — said that Mutharika’s victory in May 2019 was marred by serious irregularities and failed to meet various constitutional tests.

The court found that some results sheets were altered using the correction fluid Tippex, and that others had been faked or duplicated. It said that the Malawi Electoral Commission had discharged its duties with negligence and contrary to the constitution of the country.

“In every election there will be irregularities but in the present matter, it has been our finding that the irregularities were so widespread, systematic and grave that the results of the elections have been compromised and [cannot] be trusted as reflection of the votes,” said the judge president.

Potani began reading the judgment, which is more than 500 pages long, at 9am on Monday morning. At that time, Lilongwe was a ghost town, with most residents staying indoors for fear of violence. The judges themselves arrived at the court in armoured military vehicles, while air-force helicopters circled the capital for hours.

They were still reading the judgment late on Monday evening, but by then the mood of the city had changed to jubilation with youths gathered on streets to sing songs in praise of the judges and calling for Mutharika’s immediate departure.

“We thank God that the judgment has been passed. We are happy, this is what we were looking for, justice,” said opposition leader Saulos Chilima. Chilima was previously Mutharika’s vice-president, but the pair fell out before the last election. With the annulment of that result, Chilima faces the bizarre prospect of being restored to the position of vice-president until new elections can be held — before which he will have to work alongside Mutharika, who remains the president until the next vote.

READ MORE: Malawi in turmoil as judgment day looms 

Chilima’s party, the United Transformation Movement, brought the legal challenge to courts together with the other main opposition movement, the Malawi Congress Party.

Tensions in Malawi have been high ever since the disputed election, which triggered seven months of protests and the worst political crisis since the country’s return to democracy in 1994.
Timothy Mtambo, head of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) which has been at the forefront of street protests, welcomed the verdict. “Thank you Malawi, you and HRDC have been vindicated. Tomorrow we will tell you what to do next,” he wrote on Facebook. “We can no longer trust thieves to manage our country. We are bouncing back. The job is just beginning.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Golden Matonga
Golden Matonga is an award-winning journalist, columnist and blogger based in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Covid-overflow hospital in ruins as SIU investigates

A high-level probe has begun into hundreds of millions of rand spent by the Gauteng health department to refurbish a hospital that is now seven months behind schedule – and lying empty

Q&A Sessions: ‘I should have fought harder for SA vaccine’...

Professor Salim Abdool Karim talks to Nicolene de Wee about his responsibility as head of the ministerial advisory committee tasked with guiding the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

More top stories

Children may benefit when parents share their digital gaming...

Digital games can provide forums for diverse groups of people to come together, which is especially important while our physical activities are restricted

Zuma won’t appear before Zondo commission on Monday, say his...

Last year the commission asked the Constitutional Court to force the former president to appear. Although ruling has not been made, the summons remains valid, but Zuma’s lawyers say they won’t honour it

Molefe blames Ramaphosa for Eskom’s woes in statement to Zondo...

Brian Molefe guns for Cyril Ramaphosa, alleging that the president’s relationship with Glencore was only a ploy to siphon money out of Eskom

Death and anxiety rife at matric marking centres as schools...

Education department delays 2021 academic year as the Covid-19 death and infection rates rise rapidly, but assures 2020 matrics that results will be released on time

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…