Just like Kenya, Malawi’s Constitutional Court has annulled the results of last year’s presidential election, finding in favour of the nation’s main opposition party that alleged the outcome was rigged.
The panel of five judges, headed by Healey Potani, ordered that fresh elections be held within five months. Until then, the country will be run by the previous government, which was headed by the incumbent, Peter Mutharika and his deputy, Saulos Chilima.
The ruling marks a rare occasion in Africa in which a court has overturned the outcome of a presidential vote. A decision by Kenya’s High Court in 2017 to reject that nation’s ballot was a first for the continent.
“There were widespread, systematic and serious irregularities such as cannot be trusted as the will of the people,” Potani said in his ruling Monday in the capital, Lilongwe.
The court further ordered lawmakers to meet within 21 days to deliberate on how the new elections should be conducted, with the emphasis that the winner in the forthcoming vote should amass an absolute majority.
The ruling overturns the electoral commission’s declaration in May that Mutharika won the vote with 38.6% support in the first-past-the-post race. The main opposition Malawi Congress Party, whose leader Lazarus Chakwera was said to have secured 35.4% backing, alleged that ballot papers were altered to change the outcome and filed a lawsuit to have it overturned.
The dispute over the outcome sparked violent demonstrations in the normally peaceful southern African nation. The decision could ease tension, especially after the court called for a new vote, according to George Phiri, a political scientist at the University of Livingstonia in the northern city of Mzuzu.
Landlocked Malawi is among the world’s least developed countries. The economy is mainly agricultural, with a largely rural population. It is Africa’s biggest supplier of burley tobacco, a low-quality variety of the leaf used to fill cigarettes rather than flavor them and the crop accounts for the bulk of its exports.