By Prince Kurupati
In 2019, Malawians went to the polls to choose their next president. After the counting of ballots then incumbent Prof Peter Mutharika was declared the winner. Mutharika held the hot seat for just a few months however as the country’s Supreme Court later on reversed the 2019 election and called for a fresh presidential election in 2020. The court cited gross irregularities and electoral fraud as the reasons behind the reversal of the election. The 2020 presidential election produced different results as the coalition pact led by Lazarus Chakwera won the election. Fast forward a year later to 2021, Chakwera faces the same predicament as Prof Mutharika as his electoral victory is under extreme scrutiny.
The man who is putting Chakwera’s electoral victory under extreme scrutiny is his predecessor, Prof Peter Mutharika. Mutharika is buoyed in his quest to have the 2020 election reversed and fresh polls called thanks to a Supreme Court judgement which declared the appointment of four Malawi Electoral Commission commissioners invalid and unconstitutional. Recently, Mutharika sat down with Zimbabwean journalist Violet Gonda to discuss this amongst many other issues.
To start off with, Mutharika was very frank stating that it’s a huge possibility that Malawi can experience a third presidential election in three years. According to Mutharika, his party is looking to have the 2020 election nullified on the basis that it was presided over by people who were not fit to do the job. This of course necessitated by the Supreme Court decision to nullify and invalidate the appointment of four Malawi Electoral Commission commissioners.
Questioned about the involvement of his party DPP in the appointment of the commissioners as they are all from the party, and if the party may have known about going over the line when appointing the commissioners, Mutharika said at the time, everything from the party’s side was done above board. The decision to nullify the commissioners by the Supreme Court did however come as a welcome surprise to them as it gave them ammunition to seek recourse which they think they deserve.
In passing the ruling, Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda said that the nullification of the appointment of four electoral body commissioners Jean Muthanga, Linda Kunje, Steven Duwa and Arthur Nanthuru did not affect the validity of the June 2020 re-run presidential election. Mutharika and his party however say Nyirenda erred on this front as the ruling he passed a ruling which is beyond his mandate. They argue that according to the Malawian Constitution, an election which is presided over by undeserving commissioners cannot be declared legitimate and conclusive.
The same argument brought forward by Mutharika has also been brought forward by the lawyer for DPP Charles Mhango. In a statement, Mhango said that “My clients believe strongly that the elections that took place on 23rd June, electing President Chakwera, is also null and void because the principal of the law is very clear; out of nothing, come nothing.”
Based upon the provisions of the Constitution, it’s quite clear that the DPP and Mutharika have quite a strong case before the courts. Even though this is the case, there is a high likelihood of the case to become a long and protracted legal battle which will go on and on. Mutharika is aware of this but in the interests of safeguarding and protecting the vote of the millions who cast their votes in support of the DPP, he and the party are eager to keep going until the very end.
Mutharika did quash the sentiments that his interest in the nullification of the appointment of the electoral body commissioners is just a plot by him to seek power through the back door. He said that his intentions are not at all informed or advanced by his need to cling on to power as some may speculate. Rather, the important thing at this juncture is to ensure that the party protects the voice and the votes of their supporters who came out in their numbers to support the party in the election. He said the party has a responsibility to see to it that they do things which instil confidence in their supporters and one such thing relates to protecting their votes.
Ever since the DPP expressed their interest to have the 2020 presidential re-run election reversed, some voices in the country think the reasons behind were largely necessitated by Mutharika’s keenness to cling onto power. One social commentator by the name Humphrey Mvula said that the case is a simple demonstration of the failure by political leaders to accept electoral defeat. “Our challenge as most African countries including Malawi is that we rarely accept that we have lost the elections. We always want to fight and always want the court to tell us that we have lost the elections. Even at that time, we have been able to trash the decision of the court,” Mvula said.
Still, many others believe that it will be double standards to have the victory of Prof Mutharika quashed because of irregularities and that of incumbent President Chakwera to be maintained in the face of irregularities as well albeit of a different nature.
The political situation is generating keen attention in Malawi and beyond. It will be interesting to see how another rerun plays out in case things get to that point. With Malawians able to compare a year of the change President Chakwera promised to what his predecessor and most likely challenger Prof Peter Mutharika achieved while in office, it will be an interesting contest to say the least.