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Malawi election: Courtroom to rule on 2019 presidential ballot

Three main candidatesImage copyright
AFP

Image caption

Lazarus Chakwera (left) and Saulos Chilima (centre) are challenging the victory of President Peter Mutharika (right)

There has been a high level of anxiety in Malawi as people wait for a panel of five top judges to make a ruling on last May’s presidential election.

Many schools have been closed and some public transport has been suspended ahead of Monday’s decision on whether the result should be annulled.

President Peter Mutharika won a second term with 38.6% of the vote.

But opposition candidate Lazarus Chakwera went to court to argue that he should have been declared the winner.

According to the official results he won 35.4% of the vote as the flag bearer for the Malawi Congress Party.

A former ally of the president, Saulos Chilima, who came third with 20.2%, is also challenging the election result. He was the candidate for the United Transformation Movement.

What were the allegations?

The losing candidates alleged that the electoral process, especially the way the results were handled, was full of irregularities.

In court, their lawyers said that correction fluid – known locally by the brand name Tipp-Ex – had been used on some of the tallying forms sent in by polling stations.

The changes were made after they had been signed by party agents, they said.

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Getty Images

Image caption

The opposition alleges that there were irregularities at the polling centres where the votes were counted

The lawyers also said that in some cases polling officials sent in the wrong copy of the results sheet to the main tallying centre.

They also found some mathematical errors in a small number of cases.

Though in each case there were not a huge number of errors, the lawyers said that the evidence pointed to a flawed process.

What was the response?

In court, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) defended its handling of the vote as being in keeping with the law.

It said that on the few forms where correction fluid had been found, it had not been used to change a result, but to alter procedural information that had been incorrectly entered.

The commission said it had not supplied the Tipp-Ex.

Person voting

Getty Images

Malawi’s 2019 election

Official results

  • 38.6%Peter Mutharika

  • 35.4%Lazarus Chakwera

  • 20.2%Saulos Chilima

Source: Malawi Electoral Commission

The MEC’s lawyers also argued that while the wrong copy of the results sheet had been submitted in some cases, that copy had been signed off by party agents and the tally itself was correct.

Outside the court proceedings, backers of Mr Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party often mentioned reports of international observers, which were largely favourable, as evidence that he won the vote fairly.

How interested have Malawians been in the case?

The court proceedings, which lasted more than three months, were keenly followed.

Four radio stations broadcast the sessions live and on public transport passengers sometimes demanded that the radio be switched on so they could follow what was happening.

Groups of people gathered round radio sets to hear the latest from the court.

Why is it such a big deal?

The level of anger is unprecedented here.

Since the disputed results were announced last May, there have been regular anti-government protests. Some of these have resulted in looting and the destruction of property, including government offices.

Two people – one police officer and one civilian – are known to have been killed during the demonstrations.

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

A human rights group held a rally in the capital after allegations were made that someone had attempted to bribe the judges

Malawi’s Human Rights Commission said that in October, during a security crackdown following a protest, police officers raped and sexually assaulted women, some of them in the presence of their children.

There have also been reports that there were attempts to bribe the five judges overseeing the case, which sparked a large demonstration in the capital, Lilongwe.

The situation has not been helped by the fact that the police is not seen as neutral or professional. For the most part, it has been the military which has been going onto the streets to help bring order.

What will happen after the court rules?

The court can rule by a majority decision and it is not clear which way the judges will go.

Opposition supporters have taken encouragement from the 2017 Kenyan court decision to annul the presidential election there.

But if the court does not cancel the result there is the fear of more violence.

The government, the security forces, church organisations and diplomats have all issued statements pleading for calm.

Both Mr Chakwera and Mr Chilima have urged Malawians to respect the court verdict.

As the judgement is being delivered many people are planning to stay indoors, but the main parties are expected to bus supporters into the main urban centres for celebrations.

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