Malawians today return to 5 002 polling centres nationwide to elect the country’s President for the next five years in a court-ordered fresh presidential election.
Unlike in previous elections when Malawians could choose from up to 12 presidential hopefuls as was the case in 2014, this year the 6.8 million registered voters will have to choose from three candidates— Peter Mutharika of DPP, Lazarus Chakwera of MCP and Peter Kuwani of Mbakuwaku Movement for Development (MMD) .
Except Kuwani, who is going it alone with his party and running mate Archibald Kalawang’oma, Mutharika has partnered United Democratic Front (UDF) president Atupele Muluzi as running mate while Chakwera has paired UTM Party president and the country’s estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima.
Today’s presidential election will be the first in the country to be determined using the 50-percent-plus-one system following the court’s interpretation of majority in Section 80(2) of the Constitution. Previously, winners were declared President based on simple majority or first-past-the-post.
In its February 3 2020 landmark judgement that nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election over irregularities, especially in the results management system, the five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court interpreted the provision “the President shall be elected by a majority of the electorate through direct, universal and equal suffrage” to mean 50-percent-plus-one.
The ruling was on May 8 upheld by a seven-judge panel of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal.
In the wake of the ruling that ordered a fresh election within 150 days, some political parties mooted electoral alliances.
During the annulled presidential election, Chakwera, Chilima, Muluzi and Mutharika were presidential candidates in their own right alongside Kuwani and two others—Professor John Chisi (Umodzi Party) and Revelend Kaliya (independent).
In the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, the 6 859 570 registered voters comprised 3.7 million youths (2.1 million females and 1.6 million males), representing 54 percent of the total registered voters. Overall, the voter’s roll has 3.8 million women or 55.8 percent against three million males.
But out of the registered voters, 1 753 587 people or 25.56 percent did not turn up and 74 719 votes were null and void.
How have the parties and other electoral stakeholders, including accredited civil society organisations moved to address the two challenges?
In an interview yesterday, Kuwani expressed hope that more registered voters, including those who did not vote in the May 2019 Tripartite Elections, will vote in today’s polls which he described as “not an ordinary election”.
He said today’s election is meant to restore peace and order in the country; hence, will motivate many registered voters to cast their vote.
Kuwani, who said he was in a relaxed mood, said: “Every peace-loving Malawian should certainly get motivated to make things right. More importantly, we are just looking at one election and the reconstruction of the Malawi Electoral Commission will also give confidence to prospective voters.”
In a separate interview, MCP publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali said Tonse Alliance has done all it could to motivate people to vote.
He projected the voter turnout to be at a record 95 percent this year.
On how Chakwera is spending his time, Munthali said the candidate has been praying for a better Malawi.
He said: “His expectation is very high that this is the time that God will answer the prayer.
“In fact, he feels God has already answered that prayer. He believes that this country does not need the effort of one person only, but everyone. He is looking forward to a peaceful nation, free of violence and brutality.”
On his part, presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani said Mutharika is well and very jovial.
He said: “The President is calm and confident. He is looking forward to the triumph of democracy and the will of the people. He is calling upon all registered voters to go and vote. He is further calling upon Malawians to remain calm and orderly.”
Lilongwe-based political scientist Godfrey Pumbwa said he is hopeful that more registered voters will turn up this year, including those who did not vote last year.
He said his optimism is premised on the basis that besides political parties and civil society organisations (CSOs) playing their role to civic-educate voters on the importance of their votes, the presidential election nullification case proceedings have also played big role.
Said Pumbwa: “The demonstrations that were organised by CSOs also helped in civic-educating people about guarding their electoral right.”
In a separate interview, Mustafa Hussein, a political analyst who teaches at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, echoed Pumbwa’s views that political parties and the court proceedings have played a big role to raise awareness on the importance of today’s poll.
The winning presidential candidate and running mate will become the country’s President and Vice-President. In 2014, Mutharika—then in opposition—paired with Chilima who he plucked from the private sector where he worked as the first Malawian managing director for the multinational Airtel Malawi plc.
Today’s election is being held two weeks after the appointment of High Court Judge Chifundo Kachale as chairperson to replace embattled Jane Ansah—a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal—who resigned after both the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court found her commission wanting. Kachale was appointed alongside six commissioners representing political parties.
In the 2014 elections, Mutharika had 1.9 million votes, representing 36.4 percent of the votes cast while Chakwera got 1.4 million votes or 27.8 percent and then incumbent president Joyce Banda—who had ascended to the presidency in line with constitutional order after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in 2012—finished third with 1 056 236 votes or 20.2 percent of the vote. Muluzi was fourth with 717 224 votes (13.7 percent).
In the annulled election, Mutharika got 1.9 million votes, representing 38.57 percent, Chakwera polled 1.7 million (35.41 percent) and Chilima got 1 018 369 votes (20.24 percent).