The May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections unarguably remain the most followed and controversial, at least compared to the previous five pro-democracy elections since 1994.
That is perhaps the reason that seven months after the poll, dust has not fully settled as Malawians continue to eagerly await the outcome of the court cases for the presidential election and some selected constituencies.
In all these past six democratic elections the main casualty has been the country’s oldest political grouping Malawi Congress Party (MCP) which has always come second. MCP is the party that governed the country for three decades in the single party era from 1964 to 1994.
However, the common factor in all these polls has been that whenever Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) announces preliminary results, whether for presidential or parliamentary elections, MCP has always been leading.
It was the same story during the May 21 elections when MEC made the first announcement of the partial results on the night of May 22 at the National Tally Centre at Comesa Hall in Blantyre which put MCP candidate Lazarus Chakwera slightly ahead of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) torchbearer Peter Mutharika.
At 35.67 percent of the total votes counted in the presidential race, Chakwera got 533 217, representing 37.65 percent, Mutharika had 524 247 (37.01) while UTM Party leader Saulos Chilima was trailing on third position with 293 978, representing 20.76 of the counted votes.
The announced results constituted 1 436 400 cast at 1784 out of 5002 polling centres. In total MEC had registered 6 859 570 prospective voters.
Just before MEC announced the first results, Chakwera had told privately-owned Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) that based on the party’s parallel tally centres, signs of his victory were evident.
The MCP leader also asked MEC to expedite its operations and address factors that were delaying the process of transmitting and announcing the results to ease public fears of tampering with the results.
Said Chakwera: “To those evil people in power still trying to tamper with the results, my message is very simple: I know of your activities, if you do not desist, you will soon face the long arm of the law. I know of your failed attempts to rig these elections. I know of plans to stir public panic. But no one is going to steal this election.”
But addressing the nation, MEC chairperson Jane Ansah warned political party leaders against self declarations of victory, arguing it was only MEC that was mandated to declare winners.
On the other hand, Chilima had a different message. He called on Malawians to avoid putting undue pressure on the electoral body as it was tabulating the election results.
While asking fellow leaders to adhere to the peace agreements they signed prior to the polls to ensure the electoral process was conducted peacefully, Chilima said MEC needed to be allowed to execute its role with diligence.
The following 24 hours, while Malawians were anxious for results, MEC came up with the second preliminary results announcement which showed Mutharika winning after a distribution of votes from 3 792 of the 5002 polling stations.
The results put Mutharika ahead with 1 436 877 votes, representing 40.49 percent, followed by Chakwera at 1 257 853 (35.44) and Chilima amassing 651 124 which was 18.35 percent of the total votes counted.
However, after this announcement, MEC twice failed to update Malawians with figures in the presidential race, only hinting that the contest was “too close to call”.
Later, Ansah announced to the nation that she would not give an update on the votes the presidential candidates amassed because the electoral body first wanted to investigate complaints that some parties had lodged.
At this time, glitches in the results transmission were evident in most parts of the country, particularly in Lower Shire districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa and nearly caused an uproar as there were no results received by MEC at the National Tally Centre stationed at the Comesa Hall in Blantyre.
Four days after casting the votes, the country waited anxiously for the release of election results amid growing tension, confusion and fear of violence.
Security was tight, particularly in the country’s cities where police put up checkpoints at various places. At Comesa Hall, Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers and police officers were armed to the teeth, manning the main entrance around the clock. Armoured police vehicles were also stationed in various strategic places.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) was among the first institutions to ask MEC to resolve all electoral disputes before releasing the final official results, describing management of the results as chaotic and marred by several irregularities.
The European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission to Malawi also faulted the vote counting, saying it was challenged by poor conditions and poor adherence to procedures.
While there was still no outcome on the elections, and not convinced with MEC’s management of the results, MCP rushed to the court and obtained an injunction, ordering MEC not to announce the results until a recount was done.
Among others, the party cited irregularities observed in 10 districts that it argued should necessitate a recount in the said areas.
On the other hand, UTM Party challenged the credibility of the polls and called for a nullification of the results.
So for one week, Malawians were kept waiting to know the President-elect until on the night of May 27 when MEC declared Mutharika winner of the presidential race after the High Court in Lilongwe lifted MCP injunction.
The final results indicated that Mutharika and his running mate Everton Chimulirenji had won the election after amassing 1 940 709 votes, representing 38.57 percent of total votes cast. Chimulirenji lost his Ntcheu North East parliamentary seat.
Chakwera came second with 1 781 740 votes, representing 35.41 while Chilima was third, having acquired 1 018 369 votes or 20.24 percent.
In their reaction, Chilima congratulated Mutharika but described the results as surprising while DPP’s spokesperson Nicholas Dausi said on the slender winning margin: “Democracy is competitive and under such circumstances the best candidate wins.” MCP and UTM Party filed a petition in court and after more than 60 days of hearing the matter, a panel of five-member High Court judges will be making its determination before the second week of February.