Normally, Sundays are quiet days with reduced number of vehicles and pedestrians on the streets of Lilongwe. But yesterday was different as thousands sought to witness the historical moment when the capital city played host to the swearing-in ceremony of the country’s President.
By 7am, the streets were already bustling with activity. Motorists hooted non-stop with some playing loud music which included campaign hit songs in praise of the nine-party Tonse Alliance which had Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera as torchbearer and UTM Party’s Saulos Chilima as running mate.
The euphoria was a continuation of the carnival atmosphere that started on Saturday night soon after Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson declared Chakwera as duly-elected President.
Tonse Alliance partner parties’ colours flew high on the streets and in townships. However, the Malawi Square within Umodzi Park—which also hosts Bingu International Convention Centre and the President’s Hotel—miniature Malawi National Flags were the dominant colour.
The swearing-in ceremony brought under one roof leaders and supporters of the parties making up Tonse Alliance. But conspicuously missing were representatives of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and United Democratic Front (UDF)—the two parties whose electoral alliance was trounced by Tonse Alliance.
Present at the ceremony were former president Joyce Banda and her husband Richard Banda (retired Chief Justice of Malawi and Swaziland, now e-Swatini), former Zambian vice-president Nevers Mumba, former vice-presidents Justin Malewezi and Khumbo Kachali, Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara, former Speaker Henry Chimunthu Banda, judges of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal and High Court of Malawi, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Chifundo Kachale and his commissioners, diplomats, chiefs and other dignitaries.
Mumba, a renowned evangelist and an active member of the Pentecostal movement in Zambia, came to support Chakwera as a personal friend and an associate in Christian ministries.
Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara, who recently drew public wrath for writing Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda to “proceed on leave pending retirement” in December 2021, was also not in attendance.Muhara is a judge of the High Court, but on secondment to the Executive.
The Office of the President and Cabinet was represented by Principal Secretary (Administration) Cliff Chiunda. Besides politicians and other dignitaries, Malawi Defence Force Commander General Peter Namathanga and Malawi Police Service Acting Inspector General Duncan Mwapasa were also present.
Former MCP leader John Tembo—who twice failed to win the presidency—arrived at the venue holding a cane in his right hand while someone held his left hand to aid his movement. His niece and former official government hostess during Kamuzu era, Cecilia Kadzamira, was also in attendance.
Chakwera succeeded Tembo after emerging winner at MCP’s tightly-contested convention in 2013. He triumphed over former Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, Tembo’s henchmen Betson Majoni and another MCP long-time member Joseph Njobvuyalema, among others. Other hopefuls were Felix Ju
In 2014, in a campaign which Tembo assisted Chakwera, MCP was second to DPP which removed from power president Joyce Banda who had ascended to the presidency in April 2012 in line with constitutional order after the death of then president Bingu wa Mutharika.
Tembo was nowhere to be seen during both the 2019 and 2020 campaign apparently due to ill-health and old age. But his presence at the ceremony yesterday was a refreshing sight to MCP supporters who still regard him in high esteem for keeping the party alive after Kamuzu.
“I am very happy to have witnessed this ceremony today. Power has gone back to MCP… I am very delighted and proud of this moment,” said the former leader of opposition in Parliament.
The swearing-in ceremony was administered by Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda who had come along with a team of judges, including Justice of Appeal Edward Twea who Muhara recently also asked to proceed on leave.
This Judiciary has been at loggerheads with Mutharika since the five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court on February 3 nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election over irregularities. Mutharika called it a ‘judicial coup’.
But his public criticism of the Judiciary has drawn backlash from several local and international groups, including Malawi Law Society and Commonwealth Lawyers Association.
This was the second time since 1994 for the country’s President to be sworn-in in Lilongwe. Joyce Banda took her oath of office at the Parliament Building in Lilongwe in 2012. In 1994 and 1999, Muluzi took his oath of office in Blantyre as did Bingu in 2004 and 2009 and Peter Mutharika in 2014.