Following the Malawian Constitutional Court’s decision to annul last year’s presidential election results due to widespread irregularities in the vote, opposition groups and their supporters have taken to the streets in celebration. Incumbent president Peter Mutharika won a second term with 38.6 percent of the vote, narrowly beating Lazarus Chakwera, who came second with 35.41 percent, a difference of just fewer than 159,000 votes.
The court ordered an election do-over within the next five months and under new rules. Included in its recommendations was the dissolution of the Malawian Electoral Commission due to its incompetence in the last election; the removal of the first-past-the-post system, which was declared unconstitutional; and the provision that the winner should receive at least 50 percent of the vote, which could require a second-round run-off.
Malawi is thus setting a precedent for other African democracies to not accept sub-par electoral process and results. The constitutional court’s decision to disrupt the political status quo is a critical boon for pro-democracy advocates in Malawi and across the continent, who have warned of a democratic backsliding over the past decade.
The court ruling weakens the power of the incumbent president, and will encourage opposition parties to form coalitions.
President Mutharika, for his part, has declared he will appeal the court’s ruling. Tensions between Mutharika backers and his opponents are expected to escalate as the new elections get closer.