Insiders Insight: Malawi’s president is under siege

Peter Mutharika
Malawi’s president Peter Mutharika

Malawi’s president under siege

The essentials: Malawi‘s streets have been clogged with protesters and its courts filled with various attempts to dislodge recently re-elected President Peter Mutharika. Opponents claim that Mutharika’s allies rigged the May elections in which he won a slim victory. Now a hearing is moving forward in the country’s top court to overturn the results.

The background: Mutharika took the presidency with just 39% of the vote in a wide field. His opponents, led by runner-up Lazarus Chakwera, accused Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of tampering with results in some parts of the country.

Efforts to block Mutharika’s inauguration failed and protesters have been on the street ever since. In some instances their activities have turned violent, but the court has upheld their right to demonstrate despite regime efforts to shut down the protests.

Though Mutharika has managed to hold onto power, his ability to actually accomplish anything is being eroded in the face of the persistent protests and court challenges.

The good: This shows that Malawi’s democratic institutions — or at least some of them, depending on your perspective on the election — work. Protests have been allowed to continue. Court challenges have moved forward. And though there has been some violence and looting, it has been contained.

The bad: The country has essentially been at a three-month standstill as people wait to see what comes of these efforts to remove Mutharika from office.

The future: Much of it hinges on the current court challenge. It’s hard to imagine Mutharika stepping down, but it might prompt some kind of conciliation with the opposition. A victory for the administration, though, could spur more people to take to the streets.