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Reminiscing February 3

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Wednesday marked exactly one year after the High Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court, delivered a landmark ruling when it nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election.

Vice President Saulos Chilima, as first petitioner representing UTM, and second petitioner Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) challenged election results.

At the Constitutional Court, judges Mike Tembo, Dingiswayo Madise, Healey Potani, Mike Tembo and Professor Redson Kapindu found that there were countless flaws in the way Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) managed the election..

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The four men and a woman arrived at the High Court premises in Lilongwe heavily guarded in Malawi Defence Force armoured vehicles, with planes providing security overhead.

“As the ruling was being made, with us winning one battle after another like the standard of proof and who had the legal obligation to manage the election in accordance to the law, it was clear that we were going to win. That brought incremental excitement up to when the judges finally nullified the election,” said Khumbo Soko, one of the first petitioner’s lawyers.

Soko said it was an honour to be part of the historical legal battle which changed the course of good governance in the country.

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“Whether one was for Dr Chilima and Dr Chakwera or not, you just had to like the fact that the judgement raised the bar in as far as holding elections was concerned,” he said.

On top of ordering that a fresh presidential election be conducted in 150 days, which happened, the judges also asked Parliament to realign the next parliamentary election with that of the next presidential election.

The judges also asked Public Appointment Committee of Parliament to assess the competence of then Mec commissioners to manage the fresh election.

Lastly, the judges interpreted that the term majority, when deciding who wins in a presidential election, means adhering to precepts of a 50 percent +1 a system which was used in the June 23 2020 fresh election.

Jubilations erupted immediately after pronouncement of the judgement in all the three cities of the country, with people, mainly the youth, celebrating the ruling.

As for the judges that presided over that case, they have an award to show for their bravery. The five won the Chatham House (CH) Prize, given to those the institute feels have made the most significant contribution to improved international relations.

Announcing the award, CH Director Dr Robin Niblett described the Malawi court’s ruling as “unprecedented in a country where past elections have been marred by irregularities, electoral fraud and violence”.

Titus Mvalo served as one of the lawyers for the second petitioner and also as MCP’s director of legal services at that time.

He said he knew that his client had overwhelming evidence to support his claim, but was quick to add that that did not mean he and his team had to sit on their laurels.

“Winning a court case and a case of that size does not only depend on the evidence you have but also independence of the court. We demonstrated, through that case and judgement, that we are a people with very strong democratic institutions,” he said.

Chancellor College political analyst Mustapha Hussein said the judgement taught all the democratic institutions, including Mec, to follow dictates of the rule of law at all times.

On expirations of Malawians in the build up to the judgement, Hussein said Malawians have to wait a little longer for most of the promises made to be delivered.

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