Malawi: Cancellation of Presidential election “birth” or “death of democracy”?

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Following the annulment on Monday, of the result of the last May election in Malawi, where the incumbent President Peter Mutharika was declared the winner, Mr Mutharika has labelled the verdict of the country’s Constitutional Court as the beginning of the “death of Malawi’s democracy”.

The decision of the Constitutional Court was based on its findings, which made the court declare the final results of the election unreliable and corrupt. The judges of the court cited vote-tampering and the use of correction fluid to alter the results of the election as some of the breaches.

Opposition parties had cried foul and accused the ruling government of manipulating the election to keep the incumbent President Peter Mutharika in power.

Opposition Saulos Chilima

The President, on his part, has vowed to head to the Supreme Court to challenge the ruling of the Constitutional Court, which he claimed was “full of errors that needed to be corrected” and the verdict, a “serious subversion of justice”.

Interestingly, the President, a professor of law, emphasised that his challenge of the ruling was related to procedural issues and not vote-rigging. Hum! Is Mr Mutharika tactically accepting there was rigging during the last Presidential election?

Regardless, your interpretation of Mutharika’s statement, one must not fail to applaud the courageous moves of the honourable judges at Malawi’s Constitutional Court for standing fearlessly in defence of the country’s constitution in the face of intimidating power of the incumbency. The verdict of the court has again demonstrated the rare independence of the judiciary in Africa. We saw it in Kenya, where the Chief Justice David Maraga defied all odds and fearlessly cancelled the Presidential election results, allegedly won by President Uhuru Kenyatta, which his court found marred with illegalities. Many had expected the same ruling in Nigeria after the Presidential election last year, which saw President Buhari declared the winner, but a large number of individuals have come to believe that Nigeria of today, has become hardly a place where consciousness and the rule of law take precedence.

To fully appreciate the importance of the rare ruling of the Constitutional Court of Malawi and the courage that comes with it is to understand the power of incumbency in Africa. There is hardly anywhere in the world where this intoxicating power of incumbency is more pronounced and utilised than in Africa. That makes many African leaders more powerful than even the President of the USA in the practical sense of it. For these African leaders, being the President means having both judiciary and legislature under the President’s corrupt wings. Equally, intimidating the judges, bribing them and intervening in their legal work, all fall under the incumbency “right” of African leaders. In most cases, the judges who refuse to toe the line of the President are reprimanded. It was alleged that more than 20 million dollars were offered to the judges in Malawi to have the election results upheld. They rather chose their integrity and the defence of the constitution of Malawi over personal gains and aggrandizement. Those judges deserve our respect.

Is the verdict of the Constitutional Court of Malawi a triumph of or trample upon the democracy? Is the judgement the “birth” or  “death of democracy” in Malawi and Africa in general?

Who feels it knows it. Whether you call it the “birth” or  “death of democracy” depends on your attitude towards democracy and the rule of law in general and whose interest is at stake.