Malawi on the brink

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By Gary van Staden, Senior Political Analyst at NKC African Economics

Malawi is bracing for trouble ahead of the Constitutional Court ruling on the presidential election challenge due to be handed down on Monday, February 3.

Political leaders, foreign missions, and the security establishment have pleaded for calm and for all citizens to accept the ruling.

The Court will deliver its ruling at the Lilongwe District Registry of the High Court on the unprecedented challenge to the outcome of the presidential poll held last May, which was lodged by the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Transformation Movement (UTM).

In the election, President Peter Mutharika, flagbearer of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was re-elected and defeated Lazarus Chakwera of the MCP by some 159,000 votes. Mr Chakwera alleged in court papers that he was the rightful winner and called the result “daylight robbery”. The applicants asked the Court to declare the election outcome null and void.

Several clashes between opposition supporters, security forces, and DPP supporters followed the disputed elections. Last August, the Constitutional Court agreed to hear the case and the hearing was concluded in December, with the decision due within 45 working days. The five judges hearing the case were allegedly subjected to offers of bribery, an issue reported to the Malawi Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).

Ahead of the highly anticipated outcome, with emotions running high, foreign heads of mission in Malawi have urged all political leaders and citizens to respect the court decision. Ambassadors and high commissioners from the US, UK, Japan, Norway, Germany, Ireland, and the European Union appealed in a joint statement for calm and respect.

On Tuesday, January 28, Malawi Defence Force (MDF) Commander Vincent Nundwe promised tight security ahead of the decision. The MDF and the Malawi Police Service have implemented a number of security measures to ensure stability and calm in the wake of the announcement.

Given the highly charged atmosphere ahead of the Court ruling, it is inevitable that some clashes between rival supporters will occur, whatever the outcome. We believe, however, that if such clashes do take place, they will not pose any long-term threat to security or to overall political stability.

Mountains of evidence from officials, the electoral commission, political parties, IT experts, and individuals were heard over several months from those supporting and opposing the application, and the danger is that both sides have reason to feel optimistic over the outcome.

In addition, the truth often seems not to matter in Malawi’s political environment, so anticipating the outcome becomes little more than guesswork. We will wait for Monday and then assess Malawi’s political direction.

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