from MAVHUTO BANDA in Lilongwe, Malawi
LILONGWE – THE imminent declaration of opposition leader, Lazarus Chakwera, as Malawi’s sixth president heralds a dramatic turnaround of fortunes for the country’s main liberation party, out of power for about three decades, and deepens the country’s rising reputation as a beacon for democracy in Africa.
It also maintains the Southern African country’s status as the Warm Heart of Africa, owing to its being a largely peaceful country since independence.
Chakwera’s looming victory signaled a spectacular rebound to his Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which is to return to power 27 years after losing its reign as the country returned to multiparty politics.
Before its defeat it had for 27 years been as Malawi’s only legal party.
Chakwera was on course to victory after an election that was historic in that it was a culmination of a poll whose outcome the courts annulled last year after evidence of manipulation.
The annulment of the poll by the courts after the opposition’s challenge was hailed as a measure of democracy deepening in Malawi.
Fresh polls were held on Tuesday, amid a series of glitches in the run-up to the exercise. They had originally been scheduled for May 19 and later July 2.
An outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) also threatened the holding of the poll.
The 65-year-old Chakwera, as results of the just-concluded election were tallied at the time of publication, was projected to have garnered 59 percent of the vote.
Incumbent, Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DCP), his closest rival, had 39 percent.
Peter Kuwami of the Mbakuwaku Movement for Development was a distant third with 2 percent.
Chakwera’s lead also tallied with pre-poll surveys.
A poll conducted by the Institute of Public Opinion and Research (IPOR) Malawi showed that 53 percent of respondents expected him to win. Mutharika, who won the earlier poll last year, was tipped to win by 33 percent of Malawians. Only 0,2 percent favoured Kuwami.
Another poll by Afrobarometer also projected Chakwera to win by between 53 percent and 63 percent.
It forecast Mutharika’s tally at 37 percent to 47 percent.
On a dramatic Thursday, as results trickled in, there were reports Mutharika (79) had conceded defeat.
Justice Mponda, the spokesperson of the State House, was quoted as congratulating Mutharika following the announcement of the provisional results.
“I also take a moment to congratulate Dr Lazarus Chakwera and his running mate, Dr Saulous Chilima and the entire Tonse Alliance for the victory. You fought well and it has paid off,” Mponda said.
The message was unprecedented.
Chakwera has been leading a nine-party opposition coalition, the Tonse Alliance, formed after the annulment of the initial poll.
It also had the endorsement of the former head of state, Joyce Banda.
Chilima, the former vice president whose fallout with Mutharika was among the reasons blamed for the incumbent’s disappointing showing, had assured Malawians their votes would be secured amid allegations of vote manipulation.
“Come out in large numbers to cast your vote. Your vote will be protected. There will be no room for rigging,” Chilima said at the final campaign last week.
Chilima finished third in a closely-fought contest behind Mutharika and Chakwera last year.
Chakwera, a devout Christian, was born in Lilongwe in 1955.
He entered mainstream politics in 2013 when he confirmed his interest to head the MCP. He was elected to the position ahead of the 2014 general election.
Chakwera finished second amid allegations the polls were rigged but he appealed to Malawians to accept the outcome and maintain peace.
His election marks a return for the MCP at the helm of the country of 18 million people.
Then under Kamuzu Banda (now late), it presided over the independence of the former Nyasaland in 1964.
From 1966 to 1993 was the only legal party in the country.
Despite its loss in the election, it had remained a competitive force.
The new administration has an arduous task resolving youth unemployment, poverty and years of successive droughts leaving a significant population impoverished. The country’s economy, despite registering a 5 percent growth over the past year, remains reliant on agriculture.
COVID-19 is a prevailing issue, with some 960 cases and 260 deaths.
– CAJ News