Malawi Polling Day – 23 June

The Judiciary has played a major role in securing democracy in Malawi in 2020

For more than a year Malawi has been caught in a political hiatus that has resulted in a state of near-standstill. When incumbent President Peter Mutharika was declared the winner of the 21 May 2019 elections, the population at large smelt a rat. 

As an orderly country where people tend to be respectful to authority, Malawi has tended to accept the results of elections as declared by the Electoral Commission. Not this time. Huge demonstrations were held, directed in the first instance at the Malawi Electoral Commission which was accused of mishandling the election.

The leaders of the main opposition parties went to court to make their case that the election had not been lawfully conducted and ought to be annulled. For many days through the hot season of September to November the public listened to broadcasts from the courtroom and the shortcomings of the election were laid bare. 

On 3 February 2020, as the country held its breath, the High Court gave its historic judgement. So extensive were the irregularities that it declared the election “invalid, null and void,” meaning that the President had not been duly elected. The bench was unanimous. When the Government appealed to the Supreme Court it was again met with a unanimous bench to dismiss its appeal.

Both courts found that the Malawi Electoral Commission had been incompetent in its conduct of the election. It was obvious that a new Commission would be needed to organise a credible re-run of the election. The snag was that the appointing authority for the Commission is the President who chose to drag his feet through most of the 150 days that the court allowed until the re-run. It is only this week that the new Electoral Commission has been appointed, giving it just two weeks to organise the election.

The Government has used its incumbency to pursue tactics of confusion and prevarication to hold off the evil day when it has to face the voters. It took the opposition in Parliament this week to set a day for the poll and now all attention is fixed on 23 June.

National development meanwhile has stalled as self-interested politics have been played out. Now it is time for the people to have their say. For those with Malawi at heart it is time to pray for a successfully conducted election, a decisive result and a Government with a clear mandate to tackle the many-sided crisis that stands between the country and prosperous future.

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