Malawi braces for historic presidential election re-run

Polling staff and political parties monitors count votes at the Ndirande Community ground polling centre on May 21, 2019 in Blantyre, southern Malawi, during the country general Elections. - Millions of voters in Malawi cast ballots today in a closely-fought election, with incumbent President battling to hold off two rivals in a race that focused on corruption allegations and economic development. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP) (Photo credit should read AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP/Getty Images)

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

A police officer stands at a complaints desk at the National Tally Centre in Blantyre, on May 24, 2019, during a press briefing by the Malawi Electoral Commission following the country’s May 21 tripartite elections. – Malawi’s electoral board said it was suspending updates of results from this week’s elections in order to resolve complaints raised by some of the parties. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP) (Photo credit should read AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP/Getty Images)

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, Tuesday’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 tensions and sparked widespread, months-long protests that saw the military intervene as confrontations between police and protesters turned violent.

It was the first time Malawi, which gained independence from colonial ruler Britain in 1964 had experienced such protests.

Mutharika won the disputed 2019 election by a mere 38.5 percent 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.