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Malawians brace for historic presidential election re-run

AFRICA
By AFP | June 22nd 2020

Malawi President Arthur Peter Mutharika (left) arrives at the Biwi triangle in Lilongwe last week, and right, Malawi Congress Party president Lazarus Chakwera addresses supporters in Lilongwe last February. The two will be the candidates in tomorrow's national elections re-run. [AFP]

Malawi goes to the polls tomorrow in a historic presidential re-run after a court overturned last year's elections and ordered a fresh vote.

Citing "grave" and "widespread" rigging, the country's constitutional court ruled in February that President Peter Mutharika had not been duly elected, and mandated a new poll within 150 days.

The landmark verdict, which reverberated across African politics, made Malawi the second country south of the Sahara to have presidential poll results set aside, after Kenya in 2017.

Although there are three candidates, tomorrow's election is practically a two-horse race between the president and his main rival Lazarus Chakwera. An upbeat Mutharika held his final campaign meeting on Saturday, rallying supporters to vote and secure another victory.

"We won the election in 2019 but the (opposition) went to court and grabbed the government from us," Mutharika told scores of supporters in Rumphi, northern Malawi.

"So let us go and vote so that those who stole the government from us should be ashamed".

Mutharika's narrow victory in May 2019 spawned tension and sparked widespread, months-long protests that saw the military intervene, as confrontations between police and protesters turned violent.

Long-held suspicions

It was the first time Malawi, which gained independence from colonial ruler Britain in 1964 - and was then ruled as a one-party state for three decades by Kamuzu Banda - had experienced such protests.

Mutharika won the disputed 2019 election by a mere 38.5 per cent of the total ballots cast, and just 159,000 more than Chakwera.

His attempts to challenge the top court's ruling fell flat last month when the Supreme Court quashed his appeal.

The leader soon embarked on an onslaught on the Judiciary, accusing the courts of staging a coup against him.

Chakwera, who led the watershed election petition, said the cancellation of last year's vote had vindicated his long-held suspicions about the ballot. But this time around, "we have more confidence that this election will be treated with the integrity it deserves," Chakwera told AFP.

He enjoys the support of an electoral coalition of nine political parties, and is confident of victory.

Mutharika, a 79-year-old former Washington University law professor, has faced widespread criticism - with the opposition accusing his administration of massive corruption, nepotism and cronyism.

Callista Mutharika, who was married to the president's late brother, ex-president Bingu wa Mutharika, says time is up for her brother-in-law.

"People have suffered for too long and they want change. We are winning this election," said Callista, now an opposition politician.

Malawian political scientist at the University of Witwatersrand Michael Jana said the elections were necessary, but not guaranteed to run smoothly.

"They will not be perfect given the haphazard nature of their preparation ranging from no proper guidelines, rushed reconstitution of the Malawi Electoral Commission, to delays in funding," he said.

University of Malawi political scientist Henry Chingaipe said Mutharika was unlikely to be reelected.

"I think that even Mutharika himself knows this and that is why he has presided over multiple schemes to prevent the holding of the election," he said.

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