Press release June 15, 2020
Malawi: Government Must Ensure Fair Elections and End Attacks on Judiciary
Attacks on opposition and attempts to force out senior Supreme Court judges undermine democracy in Malawi.
Following the announcement of June 23 as the date for the rerun of Malawi’s presidential election, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“Malawi’s upcoming presidential election is increasingly under threat,” said Tiseke Kasambala, chief of party for Freedom House’s Advancing Rights in Southern Africa program. “The government’s attempt to force out senior Supreme Court judges through early retirement—just days before the rerun election—seriously undermines judicial independence and the integrity of Malawi’s democracy. In addition, recent violent attacks by ruling party supporters against opposition activists, human rights defenders, and journalists call into question whether the election will be free and fair. Malawian authorities should end their harassment of the judiciary, investigate all reports of violence, prosecute those responsible, and allow citizens to freely express their opinions without fear of reprisal. The government should also take steps to ensure that voters are able to cast ballots without undue risk to their health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In the June 23 election, President Peter Mutharika of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will face Lazarus Chakwera, leader of an opposition coalition that includes the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the United Transformation Movement (UTM).
A landmark Constitutional Court ruling in February 2020 nullified the results of the country’s 2019 presidential election, which Mutharika, the incumbent, had narrowly won. Citing serious irregularities, the court called for a fresh election to be held within 150 days. On May 8, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected Mutharika’s appeal against the ruling and upheld the Constitutional Court judgment.
On June 12, the chief secretary to the government issued a public notice declaring that Malawi’s chief justice, Andrew Nyirenda, had been placed on leave pending retirement. The chief justice was not due to retire until December 2021. Another senior judge was also said to have been placed on leave under similar circumstances. The judiciary pushed back against the announcements, saying it would review the matter and that the judges in question would continue to discharge their functions.
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