The Constitutional Court in Malawi today nullified the results of last year’s presidential election, citing “widespread, systematic and grave” irregularities including significant use of correction fluid to alter the outcome.
The court ordered for a new vote within 150 days, saying at the end that it hoped the ruling would not destroy the nation.
The two opposition candidates who became second and third in the poll had contested the slim win of President Peter Mutharika, alleging that irregularities affected more than 1.4 million of the total 5.1 million votes cast.
Months of sometimes deadly unrest followed the announcement of the election results. The president and electoral commission acknowledged some irregularities but argued they were insufficient to affect the election’s outcome.
Monday’s ruling can be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The president's legal team refused to answer questions and hurriedly left the court premises. The attorney general, representing the electoral commission, said they would have to consult on next steps.
Security was tight and people across the country followed the day-long court session, read out in English and Chichewa, live on radio broadcasts.
Many listened spellbound as the court listed multiple irregularities, from the liberal use of the correction fluid Tipp-Ex that “greatly undermined” the vote's integrity to the lack of signatures on some results forms. The court told the country's parliament to evaluate whether the electoral commission can conduct the new election.
The case had kept Malawians glued to radio stations for hours on end listening to live broadcasts of witnesses presenting evidence of alleged vote rigging.
Sporadic protests broke out across the country since Mutharika was declared the winner by a narrow margin in May presidential elections with 38.5 per cent of the vote.
Runner-up Lazarus Chakwera, who lost by just 159,000 votes, alleges he was robbed of victory.
His Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the opposition United Transformation Movement (UTM) have petitioned the courts to annul the poll.
It is the first time presidential elections have been legally challenged in Malawi since the country gained independence from Britain in 1964. Protesters have been demanding the resignation of the electoral commission chief, and several demonstrations have turned violent.
"There will be winners and losers and we are not sure how the losers will react," said Malawian politics professor Michael Jana.