Malawi’s opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera was sworn in Sunday as the southern African country’s new president after winning the re-run of a hotly disputed election.
It was a dramatic reversal of fortune for the incumbent Peter Mutharika, whose victory in a May 2019 ballot was overturned by the Constitutional Court over fraud allegations.
Chakwera, a former evangelist preacher, was declared the winner of the election replay held on Tuesday with almost 59 percent of the vote, according to results announced late Saturday.
Malawi is only the second African country south of the Sahara to have presidential poll results overturned in court, after Kenya in 2017.
And it is the first time in the region that a vote re-run has led to the defeat of an incumbent leader.
“I… do solemnly swear that I will well and truly perform the functions of the high office of the president of the Republic of Malawi and that I will preserve and defend the constitution,” the 65-year-old Chakwera said as took his oath before thousands of supporters.
Opposition candidate Saulos Chilima was sworn in as vice-president.
Some 6.8 million Malawians returned to the polls on Tuesday after the country’s top court found the first election had been marred by widespread irregularities — including the use of correction fluid to tamper with result sheets.
Chakwera was pronounced the winner with 2.6 million votes, while Mutharika took 1.75 million and underdog candidate Peter Dominico Kuwani over 32,400.
Voter turnout was just under 65 percent.
In power since 2014, Mutharika had won 38 percent of the discredited vote last year, just ahead of Chakwera with about 35 percent.
‘A government that serves’
“Fellow Malawians, to stand before you is an honour. It’s an honour that fills me with unspeakable joy,” Chakwera said.
“It is an honour forged in the furnace of your desire and your demand for change.”
Addressing supporters in Lilongwe’s Freedom Square, Chakwera vowed to restore “faith in the possibility of having a government that serves” and “fights for you”.
“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,” he added.
“But… Malawi is home to you too… so long as I am its president, you too will prosper.”
Chakwera leads Malawi’s oldest party, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which is the main opposition party and ruled Malawi for three decades from 1964 to 1994 under Hastings Banda’s one-party rule.
Mutharika, 79, has not yet commented on his defeat.
On Saturday, he had argued that the election re-run had been flawed, citing violence and intimidation against monitors.
The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) dismissed the allegations and said all complaints had been “resolved”.
But Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) called on the MEC to annul the results of the second vote and declare a third poll.
olitical analysts told this reporter they highly doubted the possibility of a second re-run.
Kenya’s former prime minister Raila Odinga — who lost to the incumbent in the country’s 2017 vote re-run — was among several politicians to congratulate Chakwera.
“I commend the outgoing president Peter Mutharika for creating the environment for a peaceful and orderly transfer of power,” Odinga tweeted.
“The election was followed keenly beyond Malawi and is a symbol of hope for those who support democracy in Africa and around the world.”
Malawi’s election crisis: A timeline
The following are key events in the crisis:
On May 21, 2019, President Peter Mutharika, in power since 2014, is re-elected with 38.57 percent of the vote.
He wins by just 159,000 votes over Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) who won 35.4 percent, according to official figures.
The results are published two days late, after accusations of fraud that prompt a court to order a recount of a third of the electoral districts.
Chakwera argues that tally sheets have been smudged with correction fluid — and sheets from polling stations far apart each bear the same handwriting.
On May 28, Mutharika, whose party denies fraud, is sworn in.
Challenged in court
Chakwera goes to court to demand cancellation of the election, as does vice president Saulos Chilima, who came third.
In June, thousands of people take part in protests, which often lead to clashes with the police.
Mutharika accuses Chakwera of seeking to overthrow the government.
The headquarters of the main opposition party are torched and destroyed.
On August 8, for the first time since Malawi’s independence in 1964, the Constitutional Court meets to hear a request for a vote cancellation. The sitting is broadcast live for weeks by private radio stations.
In January 2020, the president of the court denounces an attempt to corrupt his judges, unleashing new protests.
On February 3, the Constitutional Court, sitting under heavy security, overturns Mutharika’s re-election — citing “grave”, “widespread” and “systematic” irregularities.
It orders a new vote be staged within 150 days, a decision that triggers jubilation.
Malawi becomes only the second country south of the Sahara to have presidential poll results set aside, after Kenya in 2017.
Mutharika and the Malawi Electoral Commission appeal the ruling.
Parliament votes through a law requiring a more than 50 percent majority to secure victory, meeting one of the Constitutional Court’s demands.
In March, the electoral commission sets the election for July 2.
Vice President Chilima files a lawsuit against Mutharika after he refuses to promulgate laws to hold the re-run and fire the electoral commissioners who oversaw the failed election.
Three people die following a petrol-bomb attack on an office of one of the main opposition parties, the United Transformation Movement (UTM), in Lilongwe.
On May 8, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismisses bids to overturn the annulment and authorises parliament to set a date for the new vote. Mutharika denounces a “judicial coup d’etat.”
On May 21, controversial electoral commission boss Jane Ansah resigns.
On June 8, a new electoral commission is named.
The election is finally brought forward to June 23.
On June 27, Chakwera is officially pronounced the winner with 58.57 percent of the vote, according to official figures, becoming the first opposition to beat an incumbent in an election re-run in Africa.
Mutharika comes second with just over 39 percent, while underdog candidate Peter Dominico Kuwani rakes up the balance of less than one percent.