Malawi’s Constitutional Court on Monday nullified the results of last year’s presidential election, citing “widespread, systematic and grave” irregularities including significant use of correction fluid to alter the outcome.
The two leading opposition candidates had challenged the narrow election win of President Peter Mutharika, alleging that irregularities affected over 1.4 million of the total 5.1 million votes cast.
‘‘We consider that” Peter Mutharika “was not duly elected on 21 May 2019. We, therefore, annul the results of the presidential election,” said court judge Healey Potani.
He ordered a new presidential election to be held within 150 days.
Months of sometimes deadly unrest followed the announcement of the election results. The president and electoral commission acknowledged some irregularities but argued they were insufficient to affect the election’s outcome.
Monday’s ruling can be appealed to the Supreme Court. It is not immediately clear when a new vote will occur.
Security was tight and people across the country followed the day-long court session, read out in English and Chichewa, live on the radio.
Will peace prevail?
Private media groups such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa Malawi and Media Council of Malawi had earlier urged journalists to avoid coverage that has the potential to perpetrate hatred and incite violence.
The two opposition candidates in recent days also have called for calm.
On Thursday, Chilima urged Malawians to remain peaceful before and after the ruling and challenged Mutharika to show the qualities of a true statesman.
Chilima also asked the Malawi Police Service, which has been supported by the military as unrest grew, to stop thugs who may want to take advantage of any public outcry when Monday’s ruling is announced.
“There is more that binds us than that which separates us,” he said. “Violence and civil strife are alien to this land. We must not lose this gem. It is what defines us a people.”
Security across the country was tightened over the weekend. The Malawi Defense Force commander, Gen. Vincent Nundwe, has said soldiers are ready to work with police to maintain peace.
The international community, including the United Nations and African Union, has issued several statements ahead of the vote urging people across Malawi to uphold the rule of law and remain calm.
A joint statement by diplomats from the United States, Britain, the European Union, Japan and others acknowledged the tensions around the ruling.
“Malawi can draw on an impressive history of institutions and leaders stepping forward to safeguard your democracy and ensure peaceful resolution for internal tensions,” the statement said, urging all parties to respect the court’s decision — as well as the right to appeal.
“For those who choose to exercise their right to demonstrate, we urge you to do so peacefully and legally, and for security personnel to proceed with balance and restraint,” it added.