Malawian President Peter Mutharika plans to challenge a court’s decision to overturn his 2019 election victory, his spokesman has said, in a move that could lead to fresh opposition protests.
After six months of hearings that gripped the country, five top judges on Monday ruled that Mutharika was “not duly elected”, citing enormous and widespread irregularities including the use of correction fluid on results sheets.
The judges ordered a fresh poll within 150 days and said Mutharika will remain president until the new election.
Speaking to AFP news agency on Wednesday, Mgeme Kalilani, Mutharika’s spokesman, described the ruling as “a serious miscarriage of justice and an attack on the foundations of the country’s democracy” and that the president would appeal.
He did not say when Mutharika would bring the challenge, but the 79-year-old president has up to six weeks to appeal.
Since the announcement of the election results, Malawi has experienced a series of protests across the country demanding the resignation of senior members of the electoral commission for allegedly mismanaging the vote.
Following Monday’s ruling, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, which helped organise the protests, threatened to resume their demonstrations unless there were changes at the top of the electoral body.
“We think when we leave it in the hands of politicians, nothing works. We will use our own means to make sure these people are taken to account,” Timothy Mtambo, the coalition’s chairman, told Al Jazeera.
Mutharika was declared the winner of the May 21 election with 38.5 percent of the vote, followed by Lazarus Chakwera, with 35 percent, and former Vice President Saulos Chilima in third place, with 20 percent.
The top two contenders then petitioned the court to have the results nullified, alleging several irregularities.
On Tuesday, Chakwera, the leader of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party, hailed the landmark verdict as a victory for democracy.
Addressing more than 10,000 jubilant opposition supporters who thronged his party’s headquarters in Lilongwe, Chakwera said: “This is a great day.”
“It is democracy that has won. It is Malawi that has won. It is Africa that has won. And now justice has been served,” he said.
In their unanimous ruling, the constitutional court judges concurred that “the irregularities and anomalies have been so widespread, systematic and grave … that the integrity of the results has been seriously compromised.”
The court said only 23 percent of the result sheets had been able to be verified, and that the outcome announced by the electoral commission “cannot be trusted as a true reflection of the will of the voters”.
It is the first time a presidential election has been challenged on legal grounds in Malawi since independence from Britain in 1964, and only the second African vote result to be cancelled, after the 2017 Kenya presidential vote.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) commended the court for “upholding the Malawian constitution” and pledged to “support … the election process”.
The international community has urged calm.
“We call upon all Malawians to respect the decision of the court and to adhere to the path outlined in Malawi’s constitution and electoral laws, including on the right to appeal,” said Tibor Nagy, the top US diplomat for Africa.