Chakwera’s heat level: A blazingly sweet victory in the Malawi Presidential Election!

  • + With an historic win, Lazarus Chakwera becomes the new President of Malawi
  • + His blazing victory was seized in an electoral rerun after the last presidential elections were annulled, marking the first win ever for the opposition in Malawi 
  • + Chakwera promises to “fulfill the dream of a new Malawi that will be for everyone.”
Source: BBC

Why is Lazarus Chakwera’s heat level blazing?

Answer: Chakwera, marking an unprecedented and immense achievement for the opposition, secures his triumphant rise to the presidency with the praises of a  majority of Malawians.

The 65-year-old Reverend Dr. Lazarus Chakwera has finally overcome and defeated the incumbent president, Peter Mutharika, in the latest presidential elections. Reverend Dr. Lazarus Chakwera is also the leader of the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and a former clerk of the Pentecostal Church. According to official results announced by the Malawi Electoral Commission on June 27th, Chakwera won the presidency with 58.57% of the votes.

Born into a rural family in a village near Malawi’s capital city Lilongwe, Chakwera has preached peace and unity among the Malawians. He dedicated his life to theology until he left his clerical duties aside in 2013 and became the leader of the Malawi Congress Party; a party that has fought against the British rule since the 1960s. He has previously ran twice for president; once in 2014 and again in 2019, coming in second both times. It was after his second attempt at the presidency that he formed a coalition: The Tonse Alliance; uniting nine opposition parties to overthrow the former status-quo dominated by the former president Mutharika. Through this new and strong alliance, the former status quo has been severely challenged. 

Peter Mutharika became Malawi`s president in May 2014 after his brother, Bingu Wa Mutharika, died while in office as the president. Both remain important figures of the old regime and are thus often blamed for the economic downfall of the nation as a result of their poor and corrupt administration. For this reason, when Chakwera enters; along with the Tonse Alliance, and attempts to end the Mutharika monopoly of power, he receives many Malawians support. The Tonse Alliance’ main political aims are to rule with equality and represent fairly every Malawi regardless of their tribe, race, gender, religion, or demographic. As the new president of Malawi, Chakwera promises a new way of governance where there will be no room for tribalism nor corruption; a trademark of the former regime. Some of his more popular new reforms include the rise of the national minimum wage and providing intelligence skills and expertise to the young population. 

Who is changing Chakwera’s temperature?

Answer: The Constitutional Court’s annulment of the 2019 fraudulent elections has fueled a stronger than ever opposition both in Malawi and the entire African continent; culminating in a monumental moment for democracy.

Not only did Chakwera win the presidential elections, but he also achieved an historic African democratic moment. Just after seizing the electoral victory, Chakwera commented that he considers this “a win for democracy and justice,” The elections celebrated in June 2020 marked the first time a court overturned a vote in Malawi, and the second time in the continent of Africa (the first being the Kenyan presidential results in 2017). What makes this democratic maneuver unprecedented is the fact that never before has the opposition candidate won the rerun after having the first election annulled. 

The first round of results in May 2019; which marked Mutharika as the winning candidate, sparked a series of street protests where citizens expressed their discontent for the election outcome. The opposition also argued that the significant irregularities and lack of transparency at the polling centers compromised and altered the results. In response, the streets of Malawi have been full of manifestations following the 2019 elections. 

Eventually, other sectors of the population rose to hold separate strikes, including the students, teachers, sanitary workers and even some manifestations against the police brutality, land distribution, and religious policies. Overall, all protests stood against the former status quo. The scale and extent of the protests that occurred were considered “unprecedented” as they highlighted the population`s general mistrust in the former governmental institutions and overall governance. According to the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), the past 12 months have been the year of mass protests”  in Malawi. 

As the Constitutional Court declared the results illegitimate, they recognized a series of severe irregularities such as the use of correction fluid on ballots. Consequently, the Court’s decision to call out the fraudulent electoral results declared the ultimate defeat of the incumbent leader, Peter Mutharika. Moreover, the decision of the court caused an immediate reaction among the opposition supporters whose mass protests soon turned to mass celebrations. 

Unfortunately, ever since the annulment of the results, Malawi has experienced severe tension and an increase in politically motivated violence; particularly between the opposition politicians, human rights activists, and journalists. The watchdog institutions such as the Malawi Human Rights Commission proposed to pursue electoral procedure again, hoping to seize a more peaceful and transparent democratic process. Now, after a wave of violence, tension and political turmoil, Lazarus Chakwera rises victorious as President– promising a new Malawi. 

What is driving Chakwera?

Answer: Chakwera is driven by his deep desire [and campaign promises] to change Malawi for the better. 

In his inaugural speech as the new president, Chakwera spoke about national reconciliation and acknowledging the polarization among Malawi`s population. His message was largely meant for those supporters of Mutharika but also his own opposition party. Chakwera has addressed his nation as needing to aim for unity while also giving him a chance to earn their trust. 

“Those of you that celebrate, celebrate with a humanness that all Malawians deserve so that we have the magnanimity of celebrating a victory that is not for one man, not for one woman, not for one party, not for one group, but all of us together.” 

Vatican News

While President Chakwera’s intentions and rhetoric are principally positive, he will now face the obstacles of appeasing a nation that underwent huge tensions and a long period of political turmoil. 

As a response to the results of the second elections, Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party implored to annul the results of the second vote and call for a third round of elections. To this, former president Mutharika declared the rerun “unacceptable” as he found that the new results “take this country forward instead of backwards.” His reasoning is backed by the fact that there are still certain regions in Malawi that did not vote, nor support Chakwera or the opposition. In his inaugural speech, Chakwera addressed these regions and stated that “as long as I am president, you too will prosper.” With such a promise, the new president must explore how to unify and address the needs of everyone; including those who oppose his presidency. 

All in all, Chakwera must now deliver quick results and resolutions to Malawians. He hopes to do so by following the five core pillars of his governance: follow a servant leadership; unite the Malawians; prosper together; end corruption, and reinforce judicial independence and the rule of law. Living up to his biblical name, Lazarus rises to power and resurrects a new wave of democratic hope not only in Malawi, but potentially beyond its borders. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Chakwera has a great task ahead: He must ensure in transitioning towards a more transparent democracy, impunity will no longer be tolerated and justice will prevail. His success (or failure) will serve as an example for other nations on the continent.

If you are a Malawian and a supporter of Chakwera, this means that the opposition has finally won the battle. However, if you are a Malawian who supported Mutharika, you do not feel this way and are rather focused on the fact that Mutharika still holds a place in the parliament, and thus, some level of influence. Regardless of who you support, Chakwera promises to “fulfill the dream of a new Malawi that will be for everyone.”

Lastly; if you aren’t from Malawi, a new ray of hope shines for those opposition movements fighting hard against the anchored status quo in other African nations as Chakwera’s election exemplifies that there is a chance for them to also rise victorious. The fact that Malawi became the second nation in Africa to annul an election and call for a rerun sends a clear message that Malawi is closing their door to impunity domestically while also setting a standard regionally. Their electoral victory emphasizes that more and more African nations are striving for higher democratic standards in both their institutions and their governance. Ultimately, the threat of transition is more real to those long-lasting, one-party rule empires across the continent such as Rwanda and Uganda as this new wave provides a path to true, multi-party democracies; specifically, where the rule of law is reaffirmed. To see if democracy overrules authoritarianism again, we must await how the struggle of the opposition will unfold in the upcoming elections in Uganda and Tanzania. For now, we will watch Chakwera to see if he is able to live up to his campaign promises, fulfilling his deepest desires for a greater Malawi.

Isabel Barquin

Research and Analysis Intern