, 04 February, 2020 / 4:17 AM
A few days after the Catholic Bishops in the Southeastern Africa nation of Malawi appealed for “peace and order” ahead of the long-awaited judicial ruling, the constitutional court of the country has annulled the last May 21 Presidential election that saw President Peter Mutharika re-elected with a narrow margin, the judge citing widespread irregularities.
“Now that we are all aware that the Constitutional Court will deliver its long-awaited judgment on the Presidential Election Case on Monday, 3rd February 2020, we, the Catholic Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) reiterate our call to all Catholics and peace loving Malawians on the importance of maintaining peace and order,” the Bishops appealed in their collective message of Friday, January 31.
A new vote will be expected within 151 days and Mr. Mutharika is to remain in power until a new election is conducted, the court ruled Monday, February 3.
The divisions and unrest followed the May 21 disputed elections after the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) declared Mr. Mutharika, leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), winner with 38.57 percent of the vote against the leader of Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Lazarus Chakwera who garnered 35.41 percent. The country’s former Vice President Saulos Chilima of United Transformation Movement (UTM) received 20.24 percent of the votes.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the United Transformation Movement (UTM) filed election petition on August 8, 2019 on grounds of fraud during the poll.
Regular anti-government protests were witnessed in various parts of the country. Some of the demonstrations involved looting and property destruction, including offices of the government. A police officer and a civilian lost their lives during the protests, it was reported.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Malawi, the security crackdown that followed protests last October saw police officers rape and sexually assault women, some of these acts performed in the presence of the women’s children.
Last December, Catholic Bishops condemned the sporadic violence in various parts of the country terming it “evil and unacceptable and contrary to human rights and freedoms, which we fought for when we chose multiparty system of government.”
“We condemn in the strongest terms the violence, in all its forms and manifestations that continues to take place in some parts of the country,” the Prelates in Malawi stated in their December 3 collective message and added, “We denounce this injustice, often based on political, regional and tribal lines, that is being perpetrated on innocent people and their property.”
In the same statement, the Bishops appealed, “In the event that the court ruling does not go in your favour, accept it or challenge the outcome through peaceful and constitutional mechanisms.”
The Church leaders reiterated the message of peace in their Friday, January 31 collective statement saying, “We urge all people to be peaceful and act as instruments of peace. We believe that our call for peace reflects the aspiration of the majority of the people in this country particularly women and the vulnerable e.g. children and the elderly in villages who are often victims of political violence.”
During the court process, lawyers for the candidates that had lost argued that correction fluid had been used on some tallying forms as evidence of fraud since the changes were being introduced on the forms after they had been signed by party agents.
The lawyers further pointed to cases where polling officials submitted, to the main tallying centre, wrong copies of the results sheet and argued that these cases ultimately implied a flawed process.
On its part, MEC argued that the law was kept throughout the election process. Admitting to the use of correction fluid, MEC lawyers said only procedural information entered incorrectly was altered, not the results.
While wrong copies of the results sheet were submitted in some of the cases, MEC’s lawyers admitted, they clarified that the copies had been duly signed off by party agents and that the tally itself was usually correct.
The Monday, February 3 ruling last about 10 hours saw a panel of five judges read through the 500-page verdict to the effect that a fresh presidential election be held within five months.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa