Feb. 3 (UPI) -- The High Court of Malawi nullified Monday the re-election of President Peter Mutharika on May 21.
The court declared the election results "invalid, null and void," after siding with petitioners' argument that the Malawi Electoral Commission failed to conduct the elections in a constitutional manner.
"We hold the first respondent (Peter Mutharika) was not duly elected during the May 21, 2019 elections," Justice Healy Potani, chairing the five judges panel, said. "We hereby order the nullification of the said elections."
Potani cited 'irregularities' in the May vote.
"It has been our findings that irregularities and anomalies have been so widespread, systematic and grave that the integrity of the results have been seriously compromised," Potani said.
Mutharika was declared the narrow winner of a second term in May with 38 percent of the votes, followed by Lazarus Chakwera with 35 percent and former vice president Saulos Chilima with 20 percent. The four other candidates received nearly 6 percent of the votes collectively.
As a result, the High Court has ordered a new election within 150 days and ordered that Chilima revert to vice president again, removing the current vice president Everton Chimulirenji elected with Mutharika in May in the canceled vote.
Still, President Mutharika will remain in office with Chilima until the next election.
Legal experts previously told The Nation Online that Mutharika could still elongate his presidency and Chimulirenji's chance to continue his vice presidency by appealing to the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal and getting a court order to put aside the Constitutional Court decision.
Among the issues, lawyers said correction fluid called Tipp-Ex was used on some tallying forms polling stations sent in after party agents had already signed them. The commission said it did not supply the Tipp-Ex, and it had only altered procedural information and not changed the result.
The 2019 election was the first legally challenged since Malawi's independence from Britain in 1964.
Since the now nullified May election, there have been regular anti-government protests, some of which have resulted in looting. One police office officer and one civilian have been killed during protests, and the Malawi Human Rights Commission said in October, police officers raped and sexually assaulted women during a security crackdown following a protest.
A few days before the High Court's decision the country's anti-corruption body arrested a top businessman on allegations he attempted to bribe the judges in favor of Mutharika and the MEC.