MALAWI’S 2019 ELECTION
On 21st May 2019, a general election was held in Malawi. According to the Malawi Electoral Commission, President Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party was re-elected with 38.6% of the vote, beating his strongest fellow contestant Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party by fewer than 159,000 votes. However, many suspected that the election had been interfered with.
ALLEGATIONS OF ELECTORAL CORRUPTION
Protests broke out in response to increasing claims of corrupt behaviour during the election. There were rumours of widespread irregular behaviour, such as the use of correction fluid on results sheets which meant that votes could be altered.
The two opposition leaders Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima decided to challenge the legitimacy of the election against President Peter Mutharika in Malawi’s high court by shining a light on proof of election rigging.
HIGH COURT RULING ON THE ALLEGATIONS OF ELECTORAL CORRUPTION
In February 2020, the five judges on Malawi’s constitutional court ruled that there was so much evidence for rigging across the country that the final result was certainly impacted by it. The judges declared that the vote will be re-run within 150 days, and there will be changes to the election rules.
The judges on the court proclaimed that Malawi’s election system must be entirely free of systemic abuse (abuse of the electoral process through government institutions), which is why they ordered Malawi’s parliament to consider recalling the current electoral commission. The judges also declared that Malawi’s current first-past-the-post system (where candidates or parties are elected by having the most votes, rather than having to also reach a specific percentage of the overall vote) of picking a new president was unconstitutional, and that in future elections, the winner must receive more than 50% of the vote.
The court’s decision marks the first time that a presidential election has been legally challenged in Malawi since 1964. It is also only the second presidential election whose vote has been annulled, the first being the 2017 Kenya presidential vote.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
The high court’s decision was met by huge celebrations in Malawi. In the country’s fourth-largest city, Zomba, opposition supporters applauded the ruling by singing and dancing. Many citizens said that they were happy with the court’s decision, and that it was good for Malawi, and good for democracy.
The court’s decision is hugely significant because it highlights the power of the judiciaries across Africa, and may set a constructive precedent on the continent. The ruling may also represent a message of hope for activists in other African countries against corruption, especially in elections. As for African politicians, the court decision in Malawi may encourage them to seek the legal route in the fight for free and fair elections, (i.e. through the court and justice system) so that the democratic process may thrive across the African continent.