Thursday, 21st September 2023

Malawi calls for calm as it tallies presidential re-run votes

Malawi's electoral commission appealed for "peace and calm" on Wednesday as it tallied ballots following a historic poll to re-elect a president after Peter Mutharika's victory was overturned.

Electoral officials and political party monitors count votes during the presidential elections during the presidential elections at the Mighty Caspia polling station in Area 23, a residential location in Lilongwe on June 23, 2020. – Malawians return to the polls on June 23, 2020 for the second time in just over a year to vote for a new president after Peter Mutharika’s re-election was annulled over rigging. AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP.

Malawi’s electoral commission appealed for “peace and calm” on Wednesday as it tallied ballots following a historic poll to re-elect a president after Peter Mutharika’s victory was overturned.

Voters in Malawi went to the polls on Tuesday for the second time in just over a year after the Constitutional Court dramatically ruled that last year’s polls were fraught with “grave and widespread” irregularities.

The cancellation of Mutharika’s victory was historic as it made Malawi just the second country south of the Sahara to have presidential poll results set aside, after Kenya in 2017.

Rarely do courts in Africa annul election victories of incumbent presidents.

Results from the May 2019 election sparked countrywide protests that lasted months, a rare occurrence in the poor southern African country.

It took the top court six months to sift through the evidence before concluding that Mutharika was not duly elected and ordered fresh elections.

The chairman of the Malawi Electoral Commission, Chifundo Kachale, said votes from 5,002 polling stations were being tallied on Wednesday.

“We appeal to Malawians to maintain peace and calm as the vote-counting continues,” he told a news conference in Blantyre.

Mutharika has accused the opposition of inciting violence following isolated incidents which the police and electoral commission said had not affected the election.

“It’s obvious that the opposition is doing this,” he told reporters after voting in Blantyre on Tuesday, claiming some of his party monitors were “chased away, some were beaten”.

“It’s obviously people that are afraid of the will of the people that are engaging in these barbaric acts,” he alleged.

But analysts suggest he may be preparing to challenge the outcome in case he loses.

“I think he is preparing the political, may the legal ground for losing,” Peter Fabricius of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies said.

Mutharika, 79, did not take the decision of the constitutional court lightly when it overturned last year’s poll.

‘Preparing to lose’
He accused judges of working with the opposition to steal the election through what he dubbed a “judicial coup d’etat”.

He had narrowly won the now-discredited election with 38.5 percent of the ballots, beating his closest rival Lazarus Chakwera, 65, by just 159,000 votes.

Victory in the re-run will be determined by whoever garners more than 50 percent of the votes — a new threshold set by the top court.

Some 6.8 million people were asked to choose between Mutharika, Chakwera and an underdog candidate, Peter Dominico Kuwani.

The electoral commission has until July 3 to unveil the results, although the announcement is widely thought likely to come this week.

Kachale says the commission will only announce results after dealing with all the complaints.

As of midday on Wednesday, only three results from the country’s 28 districts had arrived at the national tally centre.

Departing from the past practice of transmitting results electronically from polling stations, this time all results sheets are being transported physically under armed military escort.

Kachale said they had ditched the electronic transmission of results so that “no one should wake up and raise allegations of hacking or infiltration of the results”.

In this article