Malawi’s opposition leader Lázaro Chakwera has sworn to be the country’s new president after defeat incumbent Peter Mutharika in a repeated historic vote.
“With your help, we will restore the nation’s faith in the possibility of a government that serves. Not a government that governs. A government that inspires, not a government that infuriates. A government that listens, not a government that screams. A government that fights for you and not against you, “Chakwera said during Sunday’s ceremony attended by thousands of people in the capital, Lilongwe.
Chakwera garnered 2.6 million of the 4.4 million votes cast, representing about 59 percent, against Mutharika’s 1.7 million votes, or about 39 percent, the Malawi Election Commission said on Saturday night.
“The result is not surprising at all. It is what most Malawians expected. The only thing that surprises people is the margin of victory,” said Jimmy Al, professor of media, communication and cultural studies at the University of Malawi. . Jazeera
It was the second time in 13 months that Malawians went to the polls to vote Tuesday in a presidential election.
In February, the Constitutional Court of the South-East African country rejected the results of the May 2019 elections, alleging widespread irregularities, a measure that had only been seen once in Africa before and never in Malawi.
The electoral commission initially declared President Peter Mutharika, who has been in power since 2014, the winner of the discredited poll, claiming he garnered 38.5 percent of the vote. Chakwera, the Pentecostal pastor-turned-politician, won 35.4 percent of the votes cast, the electoral commission said.
The announcement led to months-long street protests with protesters claiming their votes were stolen.
Malawi ready for a new presidential presidency (02:13)
In an attempt to overthrow Mutharika, the brother of the late former President Bingu wa Mutharika, the Chakwera Malawi Congress Party (MCP) together with several opposition parties formed a coalition, the Tonse Alliance.
Former President Joyce Banda also joined the nine-party coalition.
Chakwera’s decision to partner with Saulos Chilima, who finished third in last year’s poll, appears to have garnered electoral benefits.
“This election was historic. Our democratic and judicial system finally came of age. The Malawians and the rule of law won,” added Kainja.
The opposition waits
Away from Lilongwe, the importance of Chakwera’s victory has not been lost on suffering continent opposition groups, which have sent congratulatory messages to the newly elected leader.
“New life to Malawi! Congratulations to the President-elect. Congratulations to the professionalism of state bodies and the vigilance of citizens. Well done Malawi!” Nelson Chamisa, leader of the Zimbabwean opposition, tweeted.
Zambia’s main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema tweeted that the Malawians “have set a great example for Africa.”
Mmusi Maimane, a former leader of South Africa’s leading opposition Democratic Alliance, also tweeted: “My friend, brother and leader has just won the Malawi elections … Change is coming,” Maimane wrote.
Unifying the country
Back home in Malawi, the new leader has formidable challenges ahead. The historic elections and the heated campaign period exposed bitter regional divisions in the country of 18 million people.
The southern part of the landlocked country voted overwhelmingly for Mutharika’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), while the central region was for the Tonse Alliance.
The new leader will have to close the political gap, according to analysts.
“The new president must act quickly and bring together all Malawians, especially those from regions that did not vote for him. The election created dangerous regional divisions that must be addressed,” said Boniface Dulani, director of research at the Institute of Public. Opinion and Investigation (IPOR), he told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, Kainja of the University of Malawi Chakwera, a preacher for more than two decades before venturing into politics, said he was in a good position to rise above this challenge.
“Chakwera will be able to handle this without major problems. There are leaders from almost all regions of the country in the alliance. For example, Joyce Banda comes from the south of the country. It will be a challenge, but one that he can handle,” he said.
With the election now out of the way, Malawians can turn their attention to fighting the coronavirus. The campaign period was marked by large public demonstrations with preventive measures such as social distancing that was not fulfilled.
As of Saturday, Malawi recorded at least 1,005 cases and 13 deaths, according to a count by the African Union’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“During the campaign period, it was as if there was no COVID-19 in Malawi. People behaved as if everything were normal. Some were even derogatory. The new leader needs to prioritize this and save lives,” said the Dulani researcher. . IPOR said.
Expectations are high that the new administration will tackle rampant corruption in the country, which is ranked 123 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.
“The new government must empower the country’s anti-corruption body. People are really tired of talking about corruption. They want to end it. It was one of the main reasons why people voted for the previous government outside of the office,” added Dulani.
Public confidence in the country’s police force is also at its lowest point. Following the announcement of the election results last year, protesters and police were involved in violent clashes.
“The police force needs to be renewed and reformed. For a long time, the police force was only an extension of the ruling party. Senior officials were appointed not because of their competence, but because of their loyalty to the ruling party,” said Kainja. said.
Polling stations and voting materials were secured by the country’s army, which had left the barracks after protesters took to the streets to express their anger at the 2019 election results.
All eyes are on the Tonse Alliance to see if it will deliver on its promise to reform the police force.
For many, the hope now is that Mutharika will be a strong voice of the opposition in parliament.
“We need strong opposition in parliament to keep the ruling party under control. We need a vibrant democracy. My hope is that Mutharika will stay in politics and not move abroad,” Dulani said.
Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa