When Lazarus Chikwera won the Malawian presidential election last month, the headlines that greeted his triumph included “Lazarus Rises!” which referred to the spectacular Biblical miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead by Jesus Christ. Although Chikwera’s victory was close to a miracle, the president himself is a man of faith. He is a philosopher, a theology professor, and a preacher who also has, for more than 20 years, been the leader of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Movement in Malawi. And when he was sworn-in the other day, his speech was reminiscent of a pastor. Pledging total war on corruption, he offered himself as a servant of the people. “This means that as required by law I will make full declaration of my assets each year.
I will go to parliament to be questioned by the people about my handling of state affairs, I will propose legislation to reduce the powers of the presidency, empower institutions to operate independently, including parliament and the Anti-Corruption Bureau,” he declared.
President Chikwera was inaugurated on July 6, 2020. It was to have been a double celebration of Malawi’s National Day and a presidential inauguration to be held at the 40,000-capacity Bingu National Stadium. But he was said to have thought better of it, given rising cases of the COVID-19 pandemic. He elected a much more modest ceremony which was witnessed by less than a hundred persons.
In his broadcast to the people of Malawi on the occasion, he set down markers for good governance in a cadence that would have made the Reverend Jesse Jackson envious. “It is no secret,” he said, “that we have had one administration after another shifting its post to the next election, promising prosperity but delivering poverty; promising nationalism but delivering division; promising political tolerance but delivering human rights abuses; promising good government but delivering corruption; promising national autonomy but delivering state capture.”
The saga of President Chakwera took off when it appeared the splintered opposition parties in Malawi had copied what Nigerian political opposition parties discovered in 2015: that when they band together and bury their differences or pretend to do so, the ruling party, in spite of its traditional arrogance, power and resources, may be defeated. The Malawian parties nearly missed the opportunity but got lucky at the end. In the first election held in 2019, Peter Mutharika, the incumbent president and the candidate of the Malawi Congress Party, won 38 per cent of the vote. Chakwera’s Democratic Progressive Party won 35 per cent to the United Transformation Movement (UTM) Chilima’s 20 per cent. But the two losing candidates went to court alleging irregularities and electoral misdeeds. The Constitutional Court ruled in their favour and called for fresh elections.The election failed the test of honesty, the court said. The court also set new guidelines.
The Malawi Congress Party is an old war horse, which led the country’s quest for independence. It later became a vehicle for dictator Hastings Banda’s 27-year rule. Apparently Messrs Chakwera and Chilima formed the Tonse Alliance, which proved too strong for President Mutharika.
Chakwera’s victory is considered remarkable as it is seen as the first of its kind in Africa when a re-run presidential election resulted in a victory for the opposition. In 2017, such a re-run occurred in Kenya but it reaffirmed the victory of the incumbent. It has also strengthened the opposition parties by boosting their self-confidence. So far, three of Malawi’s six elections have been won by opposition candidates.
Democratic rule seems to be looking up in Malawi. And behind the optimism is the fact that Malawians protested regularly against manifest injustice or obvious effort to manipulate the elections. Above all, the police and the military worked hard to protect the protesters.
We congratulate Malawians on the successful transition. They should give the new president a chance to fulfill his promises. We commend Mutharika for his sportsmanship. He was exemplary in his conduct and deeds. That is the true spirit of democracy. Malawi has proved a point that democracy can thrive even if resources are scant; that the protection of the rights of the opposition to protest is fundamental. The new president should unify the country and demonstrate its oneness by being fair and inclusive in his administration. We urge African countries to emulate Malawi’s democratic example.