A panel of five High Court judges in Malawi who identified widespread irregularities in the Malawi presidential election in 2019, and called for fresh elections have been given one of the most prestigious awards in the world from Chatham House in the United Kingdom.
According to Chatham House, Malawi’s constitutional court judges have set an example for their peers across the world by upholding the centrality of the rule of law and separation of powers at a time when standards of democratic governance are under threat not only in Africa, but in many democracies.
The 2019 Malawi presidential election result was overturned after a panel of five High Court judges identified ‘widespread, systematic, and grave irregularities’ in the polls and called for fresh elections.
The election was won by incumbent President Peter Mutharika who was seeking re-election. The President appealed and still lost. The judges ordered a re-run in 150 days which was won by the opposition candidate Chimasa in 2020.
Despite high-level bribery attempts and threats, Justice Healey Potani, Justice Ivy Kamanga, Justice Redson Kapindu, Justice Dingiswayo Madise and Justice Michael Tembo – who arrived in court under armed escort and wearing bullet-proof vests – delivered their 500-page ruling which upheld the constitution and defended citizens’ democratic rights in the most difficult circumstances.
The award is an annual honour awarded to the person, persons or organization who are deemed by the institute’s members to have made the most significant contribution to the improvement of democracy and international relations in the previous year.
According to Chatham House, while some African countries have made imortant progress in the consolidation of democracy, this is now under threat as the pandemic creates space for authoritarian opportunists. The Malawi ruling is unprecedented in a country where past elections have been marred by irregularities, electoral fraud and violence. The judges successfully asserted their independence in the face of significant pressures and the power of incumbency.
Dr Robin Niblett, Director of Chatham House, said there could be no more special way to mark Chatham House’s Centenary than by recognizing the commitment of these brave individuals to the cause of accountable governance and the justice that this affords to all.
“This is a historic moment for democratic governance. The ruling by Malawi’s constitutional court judges is not only crucial for rebuilding the confidence of Malawi’s citizens in their institutions, but also for upholding standards of democracy more widely across the African continent.”
Malawi’s constitutional court judges will be presented with the Chatham House Prize later this year, with a formal ceremony due to take place in 2021.
The Chatham House Prize is voted for by Chatham House members, following nominations from the institute’s staff.
The Chatham House Prize was launched in 2005. Previous recipients of the Prize include Sir David Attenborough and BBC Studios Natural History Unit, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, president of Ghana John Kufuor, Médecins Sans Frontières and Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.