On Saturday night, Justice Chifundo Kachale confirmed the fall of Peter Mutharika’s regime that only 38 percent of voters still trusted.
The new Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson announced that opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera won the fresh poll with 58 percent, meeting the Constitutional Court prescription for the winner to get over half of the vote.
Four days before the announcement, the writing was on the wall that Mutharika had suffered a crushing loss political analyst Blessing Chinsinga blamed on tolerated corruption, tribalism and impunity.
However, Mutharika failed to read the signs of the times as he convened a last-minute press briefing neither to concede defeat nor to dissolve Cabinet, but to lament what he considered the worst-ever election.
By then, the immediate past president was dejected and stripped of his terrifying security as military police escorted the new leader Chakwera from Blantyre to Lilongwe, where he was sworn-in on Sunday.
The media briefing at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre—coming three days after journalists had reported Chakwera’s win—only confirmed that Mutharika’s ‘operation landslide’ had flopped, but he was not ready to surrender yet.
The United States-trained lawyer did not allege any rigging, but lamented violence, in the historic re-run that local observers comprising civil society organisations and the United Nations, as well as Catholic bishops, pronounced credible, free and fair.
In his parting shot, he urged Malawians to maintain peace and respect the presidency, calling it “the heart and soul of democracy” though people’s will keeps pluralism alive.
Mutharika had lost grip of the youthful population with 51 percent aged below 18, the minimum voting age.
Amid the gasps of a collapsing regime in denial, many wondered why the former president could not wave goodbye in the presser beamed on private radio and television stations while the State-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)—which covered and defended him with bias—broadcast a musical called Selfie Time.
In Blantyre, Alex Mwale, 18, asked: “Why can’t the man just pick a phone and congratulate the winner as it is an open secret that he has lost?”
Mutharika has since left for his retirement home in Mangochi along the southern shoreline of Lake Malawi, says his ex-spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani.
He leaves behind a tattered legacy of another African leader who tried to retain power after being voted out. His vow to crush his contenders and his critics like a tonne of bricks, a tone reminiscent of his brother Bingu’s eight-year rule, has crumbled.
Chinsinga tweeted: “We voted to bring back decency, in so doing hitting to champion development as a collective enterprise.”
For investigative journalist Gregory Gondwe, the suspenseful transition replicated the dramatic succession battle immortalised by the State inquiry into Bingu’s death in April 2012. The commission of inquiry reports that Mutharika instructed medical staff to do all they could to electrocute a cold body back to life three hours too late.
He says: “Now come to think of it, Peter Mutharika allowed doctors to break the ribs of his dead brother [with deflibrators] not because he loved him so much, but because he wanted to remain in power. When this failed, he renamed the body of his brother Daniel Phiri and dispatched it to South Africa.”
The regime airlifted Bingu’s corpse to a military hospital in Johannesburg, burning minimal resources in futility.
Bright Msaka, then Chief Secretary to the Government, told the inquirers that in a private discussion at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, Mutharika suggested that the Malawi Defence Force should take over.
“That time he had not even tasted the power of the presidency, but now that he has. Even when the will of the people has spoken, you really should stop wasting time believing that he will concede defeat easily,” wrote the journalist.
Fortunately, Mutharika left Sanjika without being dragged out like Ivory Coast’s Lauren Gbagbo who resisted to peacefully hand over to Alassane Ouattara in April 2011.
Lawyer Khumbo Soko says he will remember Mutharika as “an absent president”.
“For a better part of his presidency, we were led by shadowy characters behind the throne—folks who exercised massive power without any accountability. What a wasted six years,” he says.
Mutharika’s disappearing act dates from the 2010 academic freedom saga when he, as then Minister of Education, looked away as a lecturers’ uprising against spies in lecture rooms left Chancellor College closed for eight months.
Chakwera described his predecessor’s tenure as “six years of broken promises”.
The sixth president pledges to deliver “a better Malawi for all that will restore a new generation’s faith in the possibility of having a government that serves, not a government that rules; a government that inspires, not a government that infuriates; a government that listens, not a government that shouts; a government that fights for you, not against you”.
Mutharika’s regime recently provoked global outrage when the Executive forced Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda to retire. He also accused the courts of “a judicial coup” for cancelling his May 2019 re-election due to widespread flaws.
His reluctance to cede power squarely contradicts what his Minister of Information Mark Botomani told The Nation in a tribute to founding President Hastings Kamuzu Banda last month.
He said: “History is honest in the pursuit of truth. Kamuzu lost both the 1993 Referendum and 1994 General Elections. In both, he accepted defeat. In fact, in 1994, he accepted defeat while tabulation of votes was at 60 percent.
“That was a rare democratic character that Kamuzu taught us all…acceptance of results builds people’s confidence in governance.”
Chakwera takes Malawi Congress Party back to power 26 years after Kamuzu conceded defeat to Bakili Muluzi, the father of Mutharika’s running mate Atupele who also refused to go down gracefully.