Opposition leader wins Malawi elections, pledges nation-building

SANF 20 no 17 by Martin Makoni
Former opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera has won Malawi’s presidential election re-run, beating outgoing President Peter Mutharika who had served a single five-year term.

More than 6.8 million Malawians voted on 23 June in a poll that was closely watched by local and foreign observers.

The rerun was ordered by the Constitutional Court in February following complaints by the opposition that the previous elections held in May 2019 had been rigged in favour of then President Peter Mutharika.

Some of the irregularities include failure by the Malawi Electoral Commission to adhere to statutory requirements on handling tally sheets and log books and accepting tally sheets that had been altered using correction fluid.

Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had emerged victorious in the 2019 poll, defeating a field of six other presidential candidates.

He narrowly defeated Chakera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) by winning 38.57 percent of votes cast during the presidential elections held concurrently with polls for members of the National Assembly and local government councillors.

Chakwera had won 35.42 percent of the votes while United Transformation Movement (UTM) leader Saulos Chilima was third, with 20.24 percent of the ballots cast.

Mutharika’s victory sparked months-long protests that led to widespread destruction of property and looting, with the protesters demanding the removal of the then Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah and her fellow commissioners.

Ansah eventually resigned in May after resisting pressure to do so for several months, resulting in Mutharika appointing High Court judge Chifundo Kachale in June to head the MEC and organise the holding of the presidential election rerun.

In the run-up to the presidential election rerun, Chakwera teamed up with Chilima in their bid to dislodge the DPP from power. Chilima, who was the country’s Vice President, fell out with Mutharika a few years ago and formed his own opposition party, the UTM.

Mutharika joined forces with United Democratic Front party leader Atupele Muluzi to fend off the opposition MCP-UTM Tonse Alliance threat of Chakwera and Chilima.

While the Tonse Alliance waged a well-planned campaign, crossing the entire country, Mutharika-Muluzi’s lacklustre and disjointed campaign did not impress the voters, who complained of unfulfilled manifesto promises in the first five years of DPP rule.

The results of the rerun were announced by Kachale on 27 June and showed that Chakwera had garnered 2,604,043 of the votes cast or 58.6 percent, thereby surpassing the legal requirement of 50-plus-one percent to win the presidency.

Mutharika got 1,751,377 votes while a third presidential candidate, Peter Kuwani, could only manage 32,456 votes. The race had three contestants.

“This means that Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera is the duly elected president of the Republic of Malawi,” Kachale declared, amid applause from MCP supporters at the National Tally Centre in the southern city of Blantyre.

Voter turnout was 64.81 percent.

Chakwera was sworn in on 28 June, becoming Malawi’s sixth president since the late President Kamuzu Banda led the country to independence from Britain in 1964 under the MCP – which has now returned to power after 26 years among the opposition ranks.

Speaking after being sworn in by Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda, Chakwera said his administration would ensure that Malawi is firmly placed on the path “to ‘Tsogolo labwino’ meaning better future.”

“With your help, we will restore the new generation’s faith in the possibility of having a government that serves, not a government that rules,” he said.

It was third time lucky for Chakwera following two previous attempts to win the ticket to Sanjika Palace, narrowly missing out in the presidential elections in 2014 and 2019.

During general elections held in May 2014, he narrowly lost to Peter Mutharika amid allegations that the polls were rigged.

Chakwera however conceded defeat and urged all Malawians to maintain peace, accept the outcome and wait for the next elections to upset the “apple cart”.

A former evangelist, Chakwera touted his win as a victory for all Malawians irrespective of their political hues.

“This win is for all of us. Those that voted for me and those who did not vote for me, know that I’m a servant for all of you,” he told journalists soon after the announcement of the results.

The new Malawian president was born on the outskirt of the capital Lilongwe in April 1955 and was educated in Malawi and South Africa.

Before becoming a politician, the president headed the Malawi Assemblies of God church from 1989 to May 2013 when he decided to run for political office.

Since August 2013, he has been leader of the MCP which had ruled Malawi under independence leader Hastings Kamuzu Banda for thirty years.

Chakwera is married to Monica and together they have four children. sardc.net

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