Malawians will return to the polls on Tuesday in a hotly contested presidential election rerun, being held almost five months after the Constitutional Court annulled the results of a disputed vote last year.
The country’s electoral commission had initially declared incumbent President Peter Mutharika the narrow winner of the May 2019 election with a 38.57 percent share of the vote.
The results led to widespread protests by the main opposition who alleged foul play.
Lazarus Chakwera, who came second with 35.41 percent, and Saulos Chilima, who finished third with 20.24 percent, went to court to challenge the result.
In a unanimous ruling, a five-judge panel threw out the results citing “widespread, systematic and grave” irregularities and ordered fresh elections within 150 days.
Crucially, the court also stipulated that a presidential candidate must now secure an absolute majority of 50 percent plus one to be declared the winner of the race. Since Malawi’s return to multiparty competition in 1994, the election had been determined by the first-past-the-post system in which the contender with most votes is declared the winner regardless of whether they receive an outright majority.
The electoral commission announced in March that the vote will be held on July 2 but opposition legislators passed a resolution in parliament setting June 23 as the election date.
According to the electoral commission, some 6.8 million Malawians are eligible to cast ballots at more than 5,000 polling stations across the landlocked country of 17.5 million people.
Three candidates are in the running for the country’s top job but only two stand a chance of winning the poll.
Mutharika, the 79-year-old incumbent, is looking for a second and final five-year term in office.
He leads the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which was founded by his elder brother, late President Bingu wa Mutharika, in 2004.
A former law professor, Mutharika, who came to power in 2014, is credited with improving the country’s infrastructure and lowering inflation, which has fallen from 23 percent to below 9 percent.
His rivals have accused him of corruption and of favouring rural regions where his support is strongest. He denies the accusations.