Lazarus Chakwera was sworn in as Malawi’s new leader on Sunday, a day after trouncing Peter Mutharika in a court-ordered election rerun, and pledged to unite the deeply divided nation and clamp down on graft.
‘I know that there are many of you who did not vote for me in this election, and perhaps the prospect of my presidency fills you with fear and grief,’ Chakwera said at a ceremony in Lilongwe, the capital. ‘This new Malawi is a home for you too, and so long as I am its president it will be a home in which you too will prosper.’
The supreme court of appeal, the top judicial authority, last month upheld the constitutional court’s annulment of a flawed May 2019 vote that handed Mutharika a second five-year term and sparked a wave of political violence. Chakwera, who was declared runner-up in that vote, then enlisted Saulos Chilima, the nation’s popular vice-president who finished third, as his running mate and united the two main opposition parties’ support bases.
Chakwera won the June 23 rerun with 58.5 percent support. Results were released on Saturday by the Malawi Electoral Commission. While Mutharika alleged that the rerun was not credible, the commission found there was no merit to his allegations.
The court’s decision to nullify last year’s vote and the subsequent transfer of power via the ballot box has been hailed as a boost for democracy.
The election outcome was ‘a victory for Malawians,’ said George Phiri, a political scientist at the University of Livingstonia in the northern town of Mzuzu. ‘It is a victory against corruption, tribalism and impunity.’
Thousands of people thronged the streets of Lilongwe and other cities to celebrate Chakwera’s victory despite Covid-19. The country has had more than 1,000 confirmed cases so far.
Chakwera, 65, served as president of the Malawi Assemblies of God churches for more than 24 years before being appointed leader of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in 2013. He has four degrees, including a theology master’s degree from the University of South Africa and a doctorate from the Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois.
Chakwera helped rebrand the MPC, which looked set to fade into obscurity after it lost power in 1994, and rebuilt its appeal among young voters. He was aided by Chilima, 47, a former telecoms executive who quit the ruling party in 2018 to protest against a perceived failure to clamp down on graft, but retained the deputy president’s post because he was directly elected. Their campaign promises included creating 1-million jobs within a year of taking office and cutting the cost of fertiliser 80 percent.
Mutharika, 79, a constitutional law expert who studied at the University of London and Yale, had ruled the nation since 2014. While he was credited with bolstering economic growth, he drew criticism for not clamping down on corruption. The government also shouldered some blame for the flawed vote and failing to tackle the violence that followed.
Mutharika said his party’s monitors were beaten, abducted and intimidated, and described the election rerun as the worst in Malawi’s history, but urged citizens not to resort to violence to contest the outcome. He has not indicated whether he intends challenging it in court.
One of the world’s least developed nations, Malawi relies on tourism, tea and burley tobacco, a low-quality variety of the leaf, for the bulk of its export revenue. Aid from international donors, the World Bank and the IMF helps shore up its finances.