After becoming the second country in Africa, after Kenya in 2017, to see an election victory overturned in the courts, Malawi goes to fresh presidential polls today, exactly 141 days after the Constitutional Court annulled the May 2019 presidential election on 3 February, 2020 citing “massive” irregularities.
In today’s polls, incumbent president Peter Mutharika, who is also the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has formed an electoral alliance with Atupele Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF).
Lazarus Chakwera, president of the main opposition party Malawi Congress Party (MCP), is leading a coalition of nine political parties named Tonse (meaning “All of Us” in Chichewa) Alliance, with Saulos Chilima as his running mate.
Chilima is Malawi’s Vice President, but after a fall-out with President Mutharika in 2019, Chilima went on to form his own political party, United Transformation Movement, and is running alongside Chakwera.
These alliances have been somewhat forced by the courts: In cancelling the 2019 elections, the court ruled that a presidential candidate must poll at least 50% plus one of all votes cast. This ended Malawi’s use of the “first past the post” system, where the candidate with the most votes, regardless of percentage, is declared winner.
Also contesting is Peter Kuwani, of the Mbakuwaku Movement for Development Party; Kuwuni is not as widely-known, and therefore regarded as contesting ceremonially – he barely garnered votes in the last polls.
A recent survey by an independent, pan-African research network, Afrobarometer, noted the popularity of the main contenders, but noted that the Tonse Alliance could poll 44% of votes, against 34% for President Mutharika’s DPP-UDF Alliance.
During the 2019 presidential election, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), declared President Mutharika winner with 38.6% of the vote, opposition candidate Chakwera polled 35.4%, while Chilima, Mutharika’s estranged Vice President and leader of the UTM got 20.2%.
Though Mutharika goes into the polls bitter that his presidency “was stolen” by the courts and the opposition, he promises to turn around the country’s ailing economy.
On the other hand, Chakwera vows to give voters a complete reset of how the government has been handling business, especially on perceived nepotism and their lukewarm approach to fight against corruption.
Meanwhile, the new MEC Chairperson, Chifundo Kachale, who recently met with all the three contesting candidates during the run up to the elections, promises professionalism.
He said, “The aim of the meetings was to update them on the state of preparedness, the challenges that we anticipate and what initiatives we are taking to mitigate the same.”
For the first time in the history of elections in the southern African country, no international observer has been invited for the presidential rerun.
Generally, Malawians feel the MK38.3 billion (about $51million) to be spent on today’s presidential polls is worth it, due to the struggle to get this new election. For months, after Mutharika’s election, violent protests erupted, with calls for the sacking of the then-MEC head Jane Ansah.
But now that there is a new election, albeit with an old set of politicians, will the country crawl back to normal life after today’s polls?