- "We hold that the first respondent (Mutharika) was not duly elected as president of Malawi on May 21, 2019."
- "It is clear that the use of Tipp-Ex was employed by officers to hide votes."
- Only 159,000 votes separated the two leading candidates in the last year's elections.
In a rare turn out of events in sub-Saharan Africa, and the world at large, the Malawi Constitutional Court on Monday nullified last year’s re-election of Malawi’s President, Peter Mutharika. The Court ordered the organization of new presidential elections in the country within five months.
“We hold that the first respondent (Mutharika) was not duly elected as president of Malawi on May 21, 2019,” ruled lead judge, Healey Potani. “We hereby nullify the results of the presidential elections, and we order for a fresh election,” he said.
Fraudulent Use of “Tipp-Ex”
The Court found that election officials used correction fluid, under the brand name “Tipp-Ex,” to falsify votes. This, they said, is “unjustifiable” and constitutes “an irregularity.” Judge Ivy Kamanga said “it is clear that the use of Tipp-Ex was employed by officers to hide votes.” Judge Kamanga added that how the electoral commission “dealt with the alterations was not in line with the law; hence it was irregular.” The Court also established that only a quarter of the voting records had been verified, “a serious breach that undermines the elections.”
Peter Mutharika, in power since 2014, had been re-elected last year with 38.57% of the vote, according to the results of the Election Commission, ahead of the leading candidate of the opposition, Lazarus Chakwera (35.41%). Only 159,000 votes separated the two leading candidates in the last year’s elections. Lazarus Chakwera and another unsuccessful opposition candidate, Saulos Chilima, who came third, immediately denounced the results.
They moved to the Constitutional Court to obtain the annulment of the presidential election, while the Mutharika camp denied any fraud. EU chief observers Mark Stephens also noted shortly after the election that “a lot of mistakes were made during the count.” Malawi was anxiously awaiting the judgment, especially since it has seen numerous opposition demonstrations in recent months, interspersed with violence with the security forces. The latter were mobilized on Monday to avoid any lawlessness, particularly near the Constitutional Court in Lilongwe. An army helicopter occasionally flew over the building as well as the business district, and the judges were brought to the scene in an armored vehicle.
In his reaction to the ruling, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the people of Malawi to “continue to uphold the rule of law and promote peace, unity, and stability.” The Court’s decision is likely to cause further unrest in the poor southern African country. The country’s current president, Mutharika, 79, has repeatedly dismissed opposition accusations that election was rigged and brushed off doubts about the official results.
In a joint statement, British, American as well as several other European ambassadors referred Thursday to the verdict as a pivotal moment” in Malawi’s history. It is worth noting that for months, the Malawians closely followed the hearings of the Constitutional Court, broadcast for the first time live and in full by private radio stations. It now remains to be seen how the new election will be organized and eventually conducted.