Chatham House official says Malawi overturning Tippex elections is quite significant

Head of Africa program at London think-tank Chatham House,  Alex Vines, has said the Constitutional Court  decision to unanimously quash the 2019 Malawi presidential polls won by President Peter Mutharika, declaring he had been “unduly” elected is “quite significant” for democracy to thrive with “clean” polls.

Court users on judgement day

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 vote result to be cancelled in Africa after the 2017 Kenya presidential vote.

“What happened in Malawi is quite significant. There needs to be a clean election,” Vines, of  Chatham House said in quotes reported by  Al Jazeera.

“I’m not sure the current chair of the electoral commission has the confidence of the Malawian electorate to continue in that role,” Vines added.

Protesters led by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) last Thursday shut down offices of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) in 10 districts in an attempt to force all commissioners to resign.

Members of parliament questioned the election commissioners at a public hearing to determine if they are capable of running a new poll.The commissioners, including chairperson  Jane Ansah, dismissed accusations of incompetency.

Ansah and some commissioner  said they will resign only if the Supreme Court of Appeal faults them, while others said they will not resign at all.

A bid by Mutharika and the MEC to suspend the ruling was rejected by the Constitutional Court on Wednesday.

Ansah told parliament that the electoral commission is currently working on the budget for the new elections.

Here are the main points from Monday’s landmark ruling.

Tipp-Ex coverup 

The court castigated use of a correction fluid, commonly referred to by the brand name of Tipp-Ex, to falsify vote counts.

“There was massive use of Tipp-Ex to alter results on the tally sheets,” it said.

The word “Tipp-Ex” appears 266 times in the 418-page judgement.

“The widespread use of Tipp-Ex and other manual alterations on the result tally sheet greatly undermined the integrity of the election,” said the court.

“The irregularities and anomalies have been so widespread, systematic and grave such that the integrity of the results has been seriously compromised”.

The court also noted that three-quarters of the results sheets were approved without any audit.

New elections ordered

The court said in view of the irregularities, the president was “not duly elected” during the “invalid” May 21 vote.

It ordered the organisation of fresh elections within 150 days from the date of its judgement, which was issued on February 3. The countdown includes weekends and public holidays.

New election rules 

The court heavily criticised Malawi’s current first-past-the-post electoral system for choosing a president.

It interpreted the constitutional provision of “majority of the electorate” as meaning that a candidate should be chosen by more than 50 percent of the ballots cast.

From now on, the “majority to be attained by a candidate to the office of president is a minimum of 50 percent plus one vote of the total valid votes cast during the presidential election”.

If no one candidate attains the constitutional majority, a run-off will have to be organised.

Vice president reinstated

The court ruled that the status of the presidency, “including the status of the office of the Vice President, reverts to what it was prior to the declaration of the results of last year’s election results”.

It follows therefore that Saulos Chilima, the third runner-up in the presidential election with 20% of votes cast, returns to his post of vice president until the next elections.

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