Malawian President Peter Mutharika on Thursday joined forces with a former president’s son for a rerun of an election that he narrowly won in disputed circumstances.
The African country’s Constitutional Court had in February annulled the May 21, 2019 vote and called for fresh polls, citing widespread irregularities and fraud.
Mutharika, 79, filed his nomination papers on Thursday for the July 2 rerun alongside his new running mate Atupele Muluzi, the 41-year old son of former President Bakili Muluzi, who ruled Malawi from 1994 to 1999.
Atupele Muluzi served as health minister during Mutharika’s first term and contested last year’s presidential election, coming in a distant fourth.
“Together we will be the bridge to the future, together we will win this election,” the president told supporters in the city of Blantyre.
Crowds of people in the two parties’ blue and yellow colours thronged the streets, ignoring a ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We won that [May, 2019] election,” Mutharika said. “This election is not the will of the people.”
“Therefore, I call upon all Malawians to come out and vote in this election to express the will of the people.”
Only three of 10 expected candidates have presented credentials to run in the upcoming poll.
Opposition figures Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima filed their nomination papers on Wednesday.
Mutharika was declared winner of the disputed elections with 38.5 percent of the vote.
Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party came a close second, garnering 35 percent, while Chilima’s United Transformation Movement came third with 20 percent.
The two parties have joined forces under Chakwera’s banner to maximise their chances of unseating the president.
‘Serious miscarriage of justice’
In a landmark ruling in February, the Constitutional Court overturned the outcome of the May 2019 election, which handed Mutharika a second term in office.
It was the first time a presidential election was challenged on legal grounds in Malawi since independence from the United Kingdom in 1964, and only the second vote result to be cancelled in Africa after the 2017 Kenya presidential vote.
The court said the poll results were fraught with widespread irregularities – in particular, the “massive” use of correction fluid on tally sheets.
Mutharika previously denounced the ruling as a “serious miscarriage of justice” and an “attack on the foundations of the country’s democracy”.
He has also refused assent to the proposed electoral law amendments, notably one that requires a more than 50 percent majority to secure a win.
Both the president and the electoral commission have appealed against the election annulment. The Supreme Court of Appeal is scheduled to deliver a ruling on Mutharika’s case on Friday.