Malawi’s government has placed Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda on leave weeks before an election re-run ordered by the courts.

Nyirenda led the court that annulled President Peter Mutharika’s election victory last year and ordered a rerun. The new election is scheduled for June 23. The order has been challenged in court and will now be taken under judicial review. It won’t be enforced until a ruling is made.

The judge, who was due to retire in September 2021, was ordered to go on leave because he was said to have had accumulated more leave days than the remainder of his working days until retirement, the government announced in a statement on Sunday. Mutharika can now appoint a replacement.

“This is wrong. It’s got to do with the election,” said Wesley Mwafulirwa, a human rights lawyer in Malawi who is acting on behalf of the chief justice. “The president himself has been going flat out against the judiciary.”

Mutharika’s election victory was marred by a raft of irregularities, including the alteration of vote counts. The decision marks only the second time an African nation has annulled a presidential ballot, and has been hailed as a boost to democracy on a continent where political processes are often abused.

The election was overturned after the main opposition Malawi Congress Party, led by Lazarus Chakwera, and the United Transformation Movement, headed by Saulos Chilima, approached the courts.

Edward Twea, a supreme court justice, was served with a similar letter to that given to Nyirenda by the government, according to a statement issued by 42 African lawyers and organisations.

“We call upon the executive branch of the government of Malawi to respect the independence of the judiciary, especially at this time when Malawi is heading towards the re-run of the presidential election,” the group said.


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