The Malawi Presidential Election Decisions-a Turning Point for African Democracy?

SAIFAC and KAS South Africa

In many sub-saharan African countries, there have been increasing and sophisticated attempts by ruling elites to manipulate elections. That has severely impaired the legitimacy of resulting governments, encouraged a loss of faith in democracy and triggered political instability.


In recent years, there have been several court challenges to election results and the processes involved in running elections. Despite having the constitutional powers to determine the validity of election results, courts in the region have, generally, been reluctant to interfere with the official results even, in some circumstances, where there was clear evidence of rigging.


The Malawi Constitutional Court in February 2020 annulled the result of the Presidential election held the previous year citing clear evidence of irregularities and requiring a fresh election to be held. The decision was upheld on appeal by the Supreme Court of Appeal in May 2020. These decisions stand out for their courageous commitment to free and fair elections and the refusal to accept the validity of a result where there were clear irregularities. They also stand out in contrast to other decisions in the region, which, effectively,gave the imprimitur of respectability to extremely flawed processes. The decisions also make a contribution to the jurisprudence on the judicial review of elections and raise the hope of a new era in African democracy where tamperin with election processes will not be condoned by the courts.

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  • Prof Danwood Chirwa
    • Dr Justice Mavedzenge