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Malawi’s opposition leader has won its historic presidential election rerun

REUTERS/Eldson Chagara
Opposition Malawi Congress Party leader Lazarus Chakwera in Feb. 4 rally.
Blantrye, Malawi

Malawi’s opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera has been declared winner of the southern African country’s historic presidential election redo.

The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) announced the 65-year-old Chakwera leader of the Malawi Congress Party- MCP and torch-bearer of a nine political party alliance had won an absolute majority by amassing 2.6 million votes or 58.6% of the votes cast on Tuesday June 23. His main rival, incumbent president Peter Mutharika, 79, of the Democratic Progressive Party, came second with 1.7 million votes or 39.4%.  Peter Kuwani of the Mbakuwaku Movement for Development got 32,456 votes representing 0.73%

Last year, two opposition parties UTM and MCP petitioned the country’s courts to thoroughly examine the elections which were held in May 2019. In February, the high court sitting as the constitutional court nullified the presidential election results after finding that it was marred by massive irregularities including the use of correction fluid in correcting figures during the election period. Mutharika was declared winner of the said election for a second term with 38.6% slightly ahead of Chakwera who got 35.4%.

Since that landmark court ruling, Malawi’s judiciary has garnered widespread praise for its independence. It is notable that an opposition candidate has benefited from a review of election results. In the most recent African election rerun in 2017 Kenya’s incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta won again.

It is fairly common across African elections for opposition leaders on the continent to claim they have been cheated in elections through irregularities and sometimes outright fraud. However, it’s very rare for results to be reversed or have an election repeated, particularly up against an incumbent president

AP Photo/Thoko Chikondi
Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika casts his vote at a polling station near Blantyre, Malawi in 2019

President-elect Chakwera, a pastor turned politician formed an alliance with Saulos Chilima leader of the UTM party who also happens to be the country’s vice president. Chilima fell out of favor with his former boss Mutharika in 2018. Their Tonse Alliance (tonse is a Chichewa word that means “together”) has played an instrumental role in securing a majority vote which guaranteed an outright win.

For the first time, the country adopted a 50%+1 majority system.  Previously, Malawi had used a first-past-post electoral system which stipulates that whoever comes first in an election wins irrespective of the number of votes.

Before the official announcement of the results, Mutharika lodged a number of complaints to the Malawi Electoral Commission however the commission dismissed the complaints saying they lacked basis.

International observers

The election in Malawi took place without foreign observers. The European Union claimed the Malawi Electoral Commission-MEC never invited them. But during a press briefing on Thursday, newly appointed MEC chairperson Chifundo Kachale said the commission sent out invitations to international observers including the EU.

“The discussion around the absence of international observers should also not pay a blind eye to the effect of travel bans due to Covid-19”. Said Kachale

However, many Malawians believe the absence of foreign observers was worthwhile because last year they endorsed election results which were seriously flawed.

The election took place amid the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Political leaders in the country were still holding mass rally campaigns, a move which faced backlash from health experts in the country. The nation of about 18 million people has reported 1,038 Covid-19 cases with 13 deaths.

Chakwera’s MCP has been in the opposition for 26 years. The MCP under Hastings Kamuzu Banda presided over Malawian independence in 1964 and ruled Malawi for 30 years. Banda who ruled Malawi with an iron fist, was ousted together with his MCP in 1994 when the country held its first ever democratic election.

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