June 29, 2020 (GIN) – In a landmark presidential rerun, Malawi’s sitting President has been ousted from power after a sweeping victory by a popular Pentecostal preacher and former theology lecturer who promised to unite and serve all Malawians.
“I want to provide leadership that makes everybody prosper, that deals decisively with corruption and theft of public funds and a leadership what will follow the rule of law,” declared Lazarus Chakwera, who chalked up more votes than the former incumbent, Peter Mutharika, in the election rerun.
Mutharika was President of Malawi from 2014 till May 2019, when he ran for re-election and beat Mr. Chakwera by a hair. There followed a flood of challenges, citing widespread irregularities including the use of correction fluid on ballots. The election was annulled in court.
In essence, the Constitutional Court judges argued that Malawians deserve, and should expect, an A- grade election – not perfect, perhaps (who can boast that?) but free of systemic abuse. They should not have to make do with the more familiar C+ election that some nations and institutions still seem to tolerate or encourage.
They also implied that a slap on the wrist was not enough, and that Malawi’s precious democratic institutions needed to be properly defended.
This was an important blow against a widespread culture of impunity. It was just the second time in African history to have presidential poll results set aside, after Kenya in 2017.
“We have had a very credible election compared to the 2019 presidential election,” Malawian human rights activist Luke Tembo told the AFP news agency.
“The fact that people came out in large numbers to vote … has to be taken as a very strong message, moving forward, that Malawians will never allow their vote to be stolen.
“I do feel like Lazarus, I’ve come back from the dead,” Mr. Chakwera said, vowing to unite the country and fight poverty.
“Of what use is freedom from oppression if you and I are slaves to starvation? Or freedom from colonialism if you are a slave to tribalism?”
Mr. Chakwere, 65, who heads the opposition Malawi Congress Party, was born in a tiny village outside of the capital city, Lilongwe, to a subsistence farmer. He studied theology at the University of the North in South Africa and at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois and wrote several books on religion.
The philosophy and theology graduate has pledged to raise the national minimum wage and revamp industries that would add value to the crops of Malawian farmers.