Opposition supporters celebrate after a court annulled the May 2019 presidential vote that declared Peter Mutharika a winner, in Lilongwe, Malawi, on February 4 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ELDSON CHAGARA
Opposition supporters celebrate after a court annulled the May 2019 presidential vote that declared Peter Mutharika a winner, in Lilongwe, Malawi, on February 4 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ELDSON CHAGARA

Lilongwe — Malawian President Peter Mutharika plans to challenge a court decision overturning his 2019 poll victory, his spokesperson said on Wednesday, in a move that could spark fresh opposition protests.

After six months of hearings that gripped the southern African country, five top judges on Monday ruled that Mutharika was “not duly elected”, citing huge and widespread irregularities including the use of correction fluid on results sheets.

The judges ordered a fresh poll within 150 days.

But Mutharika’s spokesperson, Mgeme Kalilani, described the ruling as “a serious miscarriage of justice and an attack on the foundations of the country's democracy”, telling AFP that Mutharika would appeal.

He did not say when Mutharika would bring the challenge, but the 79-year-old president has up to six weeks to appeal.

On Tuesday, Lazarus Chakwera, the leader of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party, who came a close second to Mutharika, hailed the landmark verdict as a victory for democracy and Africa.

Addressing more than 10,000 jubilant opposition supporters who thronged his party's Lilongwe headquarters, Chakwera said “this is a great day”.

“It is democracy that has won. It is Malawi that has won. It is Africa that has won. And now justice has been served,” he said.

Mutharika was declared the winner of the May 21 election with 38.5% of the vote, Chakwera losing by just 159,000 votes.

Chakwera went to court to challenge the result.

Results ‘cannot be trusted’

In their unprecedented ruling, the constitutional court judges concurred that “the irregularities and anomalies have been so widespread, systematic and grave ... that the integrity of the results has been seriously compromised”.

The court said only 23% of the result sheets had been able to be verified, and that the outcome announced by the electoral commission “cannot be trusted as a true reflection of the will of the voters”.

It is the first time a presidential election has been challenged on legal grounds in Malawi since independence from Britain in 1964, and only the second African vote result to be cancelled, after the 2017 Kenya presidential vote.

Allegations of vote-rigging sparked protests across the normally peaceful country shortly after results were announced.

Mutharika’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) urged citizens to “maintain peace and order”.

In Zomba, the former colonial capital and now fourth-largest city, opposition supporters sang and danced in the streets on Tuesday, calling on Mutharika to step down after the historic ruling.

The Southern African Development Community commended the court for “upholding the Malawian constitution” and pledged to “support ... the election process”.

Mutharika, 79, will remain president until the new election, the court ruled.

“It is a good time to be alive in Malawi. We have demonstrated that democracy does and can work in Africa. And this victory is not for us, it is for generations to come,” said Lameck Hango, who celebrated with his friends in Lilongwe.

Another Lilongwe resident, Johnson Banda, said he was “very happy with this judgment”.

“It's a true indication that Malawi has true democracy.”

But Mutharika supporter Chimpele Tsamwa was less pleased.

“The judgment is not what I expected nor wanted, but then all in all we trust the courts and have to go with what they have said. That's the beauty with democracy,” he said.

The international community has urged calm.

“We call upon all Malawians to respect the decision of the court and to adhere to the path outlined in Malawi’s constitution and electoral laws, including on the right to appeal,” said Tibor Nagy, the top US diplomat for Africa.

AFP