Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 15 July 2020

Malawi's opposition becomes president in historic African election rerun

The result is the first time in Africa that a court-ordered electoral rerun led to an incumbent losing their seat

Former opposition Malawi Congress Party leader and now president, Lazarus Chakwera, addresses supporters after a court annulled the May 2019 presidential vote that declared Peter Mutharika a winner. Reuters  
Former opposition Malawi Congress Party leader and now president, Lazarus Chakwera, addresses supporters after a court annulled the May 2019 presidential vote that declared Peter Mutharika a winner. Reuters  

Malawi’s new president was sworn in on Sunday following a historic rerun of a contested vote that marked the first time in Africa’s history that an overturned election led to the defeat of an incumbent leader.

Now former president Peter Mutharika had sought a second five-year term, but months of protest followed the May 2019 election over widespread irregularities – including the use of correction fluid on ballots. The issues led to a unanimous decision by the Constitutional Court to strike the results down and rerun the vote.

"Fellow Malawians, to stand before you is an honour. It's an honour that fills me with unspeakable joy," Lazarus Chakwera’s victory said in an inaugural address in the capital Lilongwe after being sworn in on Sunday. "It is an honour forged in the furnace of your desire and your demand for change."Top of Form

Mr Mutharika described last week’s rerun of the election as “the worst in Malawi’s history.” He alleged his party’s monitors had been beaten and intimidated during Tuesday’s vote.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission, an observer, called the vote peaceful and transparent.

Apparently aware that time was running out, the 79-year-old Mr Mutharika on Saturday night asked the country to “move on peacefully” and respect the presidency.

Mr Chakwera won with 58 per cent of the vote, or 2.6 million votes out of 4.4 million cast. Mr Mutharika received 1.7 million.

Some celebrations began Thursday night when Malawi’s state broadcaster reported that Mr Chakwera was well ahead with all votes in. But the electoral commission, revamped since the court’s ruling, indicated it was taking time to meet legal requirements in verifying results.

The commission’s new chair, judge Chifundo Kachale, while announcing the results acknowledged that “it has been a very interesting journey.” He said turnout was 64 per cent of 6.8 million registered voters.

Flag-waving supporters erupted in cheers as the results were read out on Saturday evening, and some street celebrations began. Fireworks popped.

“I’m so happy I could dance all night,” Mr Chakwera, the former leader of the Malawi Assemblies of God Church, told reporters after results were called. “This is a win for Malawians, a win for democracy.”

As Malawi prepared for its new vote, incumbent Vice President Saulos Chilima, who split last year’s results with Mr Chakwera, decided instead to stand as his running mate in a bid to maximize chances of unseating Mr Mutharika.

An attempt by Mutharika’s government to get Malawi’s chief justice to step down just days before the new election had failed amid an outcry. The chief justice was the man who swore Mr Chakwera in on Sunday.

Malawi’s drama was just the second time in Africa that a court has overturned a presidential election, following a ruling on Kenya’s vote in 2017. In Kenya’s fresh election, the president won while the opposition boycotted.

Updated: June 28, 2020 02:49 PM

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