Skip to main content
A soldier votes at a polling booth during the presidential elections at the Malembo polling station in Lilongwe on June 23, 2020. Malawians return to the polls on June 23, 2020 for the second time in just over a year to vote for a new president after Peter Mutharika's re-election was annulled over rigging. The election is much anticipated after the Constitutional Court early this year ruled that the May 2019 vote, won narrowly by Mutharika, was fraught with "grave and widespread irregularities" including the use of correction fluid on results sheets.  AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP
A soldier votes at a polling booth during the presidential elections at the Malembo polling station in Lilongwe on June 23, 2020. (Amos Gumulira/AFP)

Malawians went to the polls on Monday, June 23, to participate in the country’s presidential election rerun. Following accusations by the political opposition and civil activists of vote rigging in the May 2019 election, the Constitutional Court in February nullified the results citing massive irregularities, including the revelation that Tipp-Ex correction fluid was used to alter vote tallies. Incumbent president Peter Mutharika, who had won a second term, and the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) appealed the ruling, but the Supreme Court upheld the order for a rerun of the election.

 

Early results have started to come in, indicating it’s a close race

 

Despite present fears of COVID-19 spread, the turnout was high in the major cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuza, and Zomba.

Early results have started to come in, indicating it’s a close race between Mutharika and his challenger, Lazarus Chakwera, head of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Unlike last year’s election, either candidate needs to earn more than 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a runoff election.

Chakwera’s MCP has aligned itself with the United Transformation Movement, led by current vice-president Saoulos Chilima. The Democratic Progressive Party of Chakwera also formed an alliance with the United Democratic Front, led by the son of former president Bakili Muluzi.

 

Malawi Elections
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Transformation Movement (UTM) supporters ride on a party-branded bus at the Sunbird Mount Soche hotel in Blantyre on May 6, 2020, where Malawi’s two main opposition figures presented nomination papers for a rerun of the presidential election.

 

A decision by the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee and the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to schedule an election rerun for June 23 has been called into question by Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale, who argued that a sitting of parliament is required to enact an election date.

In a letter addressed to the committee’s chairperson, Kezzie Msukwa, Kaphale cited Section 80 (1) of the Malawian constitution, which states, “The President shall be elected in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution in such manner as may be prescribed by an Act of Parliament and, save where this Constitution provides otherwise, the ballot in a Presidential election shall take place concurrently with the general election for members of the National Assembly as prescribed by section 67 (1).”

Kaphale also expressed doubt that the MEC could hold a fair election by June 23, pointing to a lack of polling materials as a result of lockdown measures, and the fact that several commissioners’ terms are due to expire on June 5.

 

Revelations of election rigging, like the use of correction fluid on ballot papers, sparked mass protests

 

The rerun was originally scheduled for July 2, after the country’s supreme court had nullified the May 2019 election results that granted incumbent president Peter Mutharika a second term, citing widespread irregularities. Revelations of election rigging, like the use of correction fluid on ballot papers, sparked mass protests in the capital Lilongwe and elsewhere. Protesters demanded new elections and the resignation of MEC chairperson Jane Ansah, who did so last week.

 

 

Malawi Political Rally
A political supporter wears a face mask and gloves as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 virus at an event in the capital Lilongwe on March 19, 2020, where the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the United Transformation Movement (UTM) signed an electoral alliance.

 

Starting Friday, April 18, Malawi was supposed to begin a twenty-one-day lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but an injunction by the High Court the day before delayed the implementation of the lockdown by a week until a judicial review could take place.

 

This is now the second time the Malawian courts have frustrated the administration of President Peter Mutharika.

 

Human rights activists, religious organizations, and vendors brought the challenge against the lockdown to the courts, believing the government had taken this decision without providing for the needs of its citizens as well. Given that some of the complaints are of a constitutional nature, the High Court decided to refer the case to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, April 26. No date has been set for the Supreme Court’s deliberation.

 

The government announced a cash aid program for the country’s poorest.

 

This is now the second time the Malawian courts have frustrated the administration of President Peter Mutharika, the first after the Constitutional Court nullified his narrow election victory and ordered a new vote on July 2. Possibly responding to the grievances brought forth against the lockdown, the government announced a cash aid program for the country’s poorest, which will dispense a monthly payment of US$40 (matching the minimum wage) to about a million Malawians and small businesses over the next four months.

The World Bank had authorized a US$37 million fund to help the country handle COVID-19, which to date has reported thirty-nine cases and three deaths.

Malawi’s Electoral Commission announced that a re-run of the country’s presidential election will be held on July 2, 2020. On February 3, Malawi’s Constitutional Court nullified the previous election that granted incumbent president Peter Mutharika a second term, citing widespread irregularities at polling stations, including the use of correction fluid on ballots. President Mutharika is challenging the ruling; his appeal will be heard by the Malawian Supreme Court starting on April 15.

The nullification of the vote on legal grounds was a precedent-setting first for Malawi. It is only the second African country to do so after the Kenyan Supreme Court nullified the results of its presidential election in September 2017.

 

Parishoners wash hands as a preventive measure against the spred of the COVID-19 coronavirus on the last day of full gatherings as a parish at the Saint Don Bosco Catholic Parish in Lilongwe on March 22, 2020. Malawian President Arthur Peter Mutharika, whose country has not yet registered a case of the COVID-19 coronavirus has also banned large social gatherings of more than a 100 people in funerals, churches, political rallies, parties and closed schools and colleges until the pandemic is contained.
Parishoners wash hands as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19 on the last day of full gatherings as a parish at the Saint Don Bosco Catholic Parish in Lilongwe on March 22, 2020. Malawian President Arthur Peter Mutharika has also banned large social gatherings of more than a 100 people in funerals, churches, political rallies, parties and closed schools and colleges until the pandemic is contained.

 

Why It Matters

President Mutharika last week fired Malawi army commander General Vincent Nundwe and his deputy Clement Namangale, only hours after vetoing parliamentary bills put before him to set up new elections. Mutharika also dissolved his cabinet over the weekend, which allows him to appoint members of the opposition United Democratic Front—his former party—to his cabinet in an attempt to form an electoral alliance.

These moves bode ill for a peaceful re-election. General Nundwe enjoys popular support, and his dismissal is particularly worrisome, as the Malawian army previously refused orders by the government to forcefully break up civil protests. The disputed election has led to a months-long political crisis that has brought thousands of Malawians on to the streets. A shake-up of the army command could mean that Mutharika expects the soldiers to act with more force against the protestors.

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/malawi-electoral-commission-announces-vote-run-july-2-200323112550368.html

Daily Picks
Jul 14, 2020