Like his biblical namesake, Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera rose from the political dead to win the presidency in a historic come back.
Chakwera—a preacher born to a subsistence farmer in rural Lilongwe 65 years ago—becomes Malawi’s 6th President, knocking out President Peter Mutharika.
Claiming 58 percent of votes cast against Mutharika’s 38 percent, Chakwera—who joined active politics in 2013 when he won the Malawi Congress Party leadership race—said yesterday that he will be the people’s servant and everybody’s President.
For a man who is expected to be sworn-in today in Lilongwe, it was a remarkable comeback for somebody who lost to Democratic Progressive Party’s Mutharika in 2014 and gracefully accepted the results.
Five years later, Chakwera was back on the ballot in the May 20 2014 elections and, according to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), he lost again to Mutharika.
This time, however, he—together with UTM leader Saulos Chilima—rejected the results as flawed and the High Court sitting as a constitutional court agreed with them, annulled the presidential vote and ordered a fresh one within 150 days.
With the court ruling that a candidate has to pass a 50-plus one threshold to win the presidency instead of the first-past-the post system used in the past six election cycles, Chakwera silently convinced nine political parties, including his running mate Chilima’s UTM, to form a grand political machine that became Tonse Alliance.
When MEC chairperson Chifundo Kachale finally confirmed Chakwera’s victory, the College of Medicine Sports Complex in Blantyre erupted into celebrations.
Horns of vehicles blared in the streets across the country in a collective energy of hope that a new dawn has come.
But given the myriad of problems besetting Malawi—a battered economy, a collapsing healthcare system panting under the Covid-19 chokehold, institutionalised corruption, politics of patronage and dwindling government revenues, among other challenges, Chakwera’s honeymoon is likely to be one of the shortest.
The former Assemblies of God in Malawi President—whose first given name means “God has helped” after Jesus raised the biblical Lazarus from the dead—will surely need divine guidance to pull the country from the train wreck that Mutharika and his DPP cronies have bequeathed him and his Tonse Alliance governing partners.
It explains why Chakwera, in an interview from his private residence monitored on Times Television last night, said his first order of business when he finally sits behind the presidential desk will be to lead the design of a provisional budget to fund the country up to around October while his administration crafts its own budget that reflects its policy positions and what he called the aspirations of Malawians.
Said Chakwera: “My heart is bubbling with joy but, at the same time, with great gratitude to the Lord. God has been fighting for this country. It is a win for Malawians, a win for democracy, a win for justice. It is a win that will enable this nation to really reset and begin to build a new kind of Malawi in which all of us, together, will be involved with so much hard work in serving a Malawi that is good for all of us until this becomes a reality.
“I am a President for all of you. I am a servant for all of you. Dr. Chilima and myself will serve you and will make sure that the things that you struggle with are our struggles as well. The things that bring pain to you bring pain to us. And, together, we will do that which we have promised—that is to build a new Malawi that will be good for us all.
Chakwera—according to a declaration made last night by MEC chairperson Justice Chifundo Kachale—polled 2 607 043, with the outgoing Malawi leader Mutharika trailing with 1 751 877 votes.
The MEC chairperson—who said Chakwera was duly elected according to the laws of Malawi—said the Tonse Alliance candidate registered 58.57 percent, beating the 50 percent + 1 electoral system of electing President, as interpreted by court on what majority means.
Although the declaration by MEC that Tonse Alliance carried the day was expected, the deafening celebrations from the national tally centre in Blantyre, that shook the walls of College of Medicine Sports Complex, had a big story to tell.
The celebrations that reverberated across the nation could be understood for MCP, in opposition since its ouster from power in 1994 as a one party regime, but also to most Malawians interviewed randomly, the victory equaled to liberation.
Even before the MEC chairperson came with a final announcement to declare the new Malawi President, news was filtering in earlier in the day on how security agencies were maneuvering to provide the incoming Malawi leader with security at his Namiwawa house.
By the time the results were being announced, Chakwera, the president-elect, was already in Lilongwe after he left Blantyre late in the afternoon under security detail provided by Malawi Police Service and Malawi Defence Force in readiness of his swearing-in today.
Kachale, a judge of the High Court of Malawi who has earned credit for steering the commission to conduct an election most commentators describe as fair and credible, commanded attention of people present at the national tally centre, and most probably those that were following on electronic media, as he eloquently, and in his usual composure displayed throughout the process, deliver the final result that legitimised the Chakwera presidency.
Also considered by many to have quit her position disgracefully, Kachale took time to thank former MEC chair Jane Ansah for preparatory work she laid before he took over following his appointment on June 7 2020.
Kachale also thanked several other players, including his commissioners, chief elections officer Sam Alfandika and the media for a job well done. He thanked government for releasing funds to run the election and security agencies for the security provided.
The chairperson said of the 6 859 570 voters registered, 4 445 649 turned out to cast their votes, and of those votes, 57 323 were declared null and void.
Episcola Conference of Malawi (ECM) in a statement yesterday congratulated the President Elect and his Vice-President Chilima on the victory, adding the elections were free and fair.
“The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has displayed very high level of professionalism in presiding over the fresh election,” reads in part the statement from ECM.
Public Affairs Committee also praised MEC for successfully conducting the elections.
“The Fresh Presidential Elections 2020 have been unique and a great success—organised in the short period of time and witnessed by local observers. Finally, we urge all Malawians to work together in unity irrespective of party, tribal, regional and religious affiliation, and to continue upholding peace and calm,” reads the PAC statement.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Gift Trapence said last night that Chakwera’s victory was a strong message to all politicians that take Malawians for granted.
Trapence said HRDC never defended any particular political party, but is an institution that would always be there and stand on the side of justice.
He urged Tonse Alliance to learn from mistakes the DPP administration committed, saying time of impunity, nepotism and corruption should be a thing of the past.
Political scientist Blessings Chinsinga said Malawi has made history because for the first time a leader has been determined on the basis of 50 percent-plus-one electoral system.
“This is good because it’s key to nation building because it means he has to build a broad-based coalition and we have seen Chakwera exactly doing that.
“This is key in terms of moving forward, but more importantly it’s the basis for ensuring that as a country moving forward we have inclusive governance system,” said Chinsinga.
He said Mutharika lost the plot because he was a “reluctant” president and did not stamp his ultimate authority in terms of forging out the strategic direction of the country.
He said: “He allowed so many people to be doing what they wanted without him stamping his authority in terms of determining where he wanted to take the country. In short as a president he didn’t have a vision.”
Two weeks ago, Chinsinga and his team at the Institute for Public Opinion and Research (Ipor) released a Pre-election and Governance Survey which rightly predicted that Chakwera would win by 58 percent of the vote.
In an interview, United Nations (UN) resident coordinator Maria Jose Torres congratulated Malawians for being able to vote peacefully and respecting the rule of law.
“The incoming President has a tremendous task starting with Covid-19. It’s very important to look into the economic situation, protection of the most vulnerable and employment and to think about unity,” she said.
—See pages 5 & 6 for profiles of the President-Elect and his second in command.