Malawi's new president Lazarus Chakwera was sworn in for a five-year term on Sunday, hours after unseating former leader Peter Mutharika in a rerun election.
Chakwera, 65, won 58.57 per cent of the vote in Tuesday's poll, a dramatic reversal of the result of the original election in May 2019, which was later overturned by the courts. The repeat vote was regarded by analysts as a test of the ability of African courts to tackle ballot fraud and restrain presidential power.
"To stand before you as president today is an honour. It's an honour that fills with unspeakable joy and immense gratitude," Chakwera said in his acceptance speech.
"With your help, we will restore a new generation's faith in the possibility of having a government that serves, not a government that rules," he told a cheering crowd dressed in the colours of his own Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the allied party of Vice President Saulos Chilima.
MCP is Malawi's founding party and Chakwera's win brings it back into power after 26 years in opposition. The judiciary infuriated Mutharika in February by overturning the result of the May 2019 election that had given him a second term, citing irregularities, and ordering a rerun.
Mutharika's disputed win had sparked months of anti-government demonstrations, a rare sight in Malawi. Mutharika said on Saturday there had been voting irregularities including violence and intimidation against his party's election monitors, but his complaint was dismissed by the electoral commission.
Critics had accused Mutharika of doing little to tackle corruption.
"Curbing corruption is crucial now more than ever," said Lauryn Nyasulu, president of the Economics Association of Malawi.
"The government needs to seal all loopholes and use whatever resources available in efforts to rebuild the economy and safeguard the welfare of those that have been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic."
Chifundo Kachale, chairperson for Malawi Electoral Commission announced the winner Saturday night in Blantyre, amid applause from MCP supporters.
“The commission declares that, Lazarus Chakwera, the candidate who has attained 58.57 per cent of the votes, has attained the requisite majority of the electorate as appearing in the second schedule and is duly elected as president of the Republic of Malawi,” Kachale said.
According to the results, 4.4 million Malawians voted, out of the 6.8 registered voters. The fresh polls came after the country’s Constitutional Court in February annulled the May 2019 elections over massive irregularities, a decision that the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld in May.
Chakwera won with 2.6 million votes. Mutharika came second with 1.7 million votes while Kuwani won 32,400 votes. At a news conference earlier in the day in Blantyre, Mutharika said the June 23 poll is worst election in the country’s history.
Mutharika, joined by his running mate, Atupele Muluzi, leader of the opposition United Democratic Front, told reporters the polls were marred by irregularities.
“In short, our monitors were beaten, hacked and intimidated so that they should not participate in voting process,” Mutharika said. “Many tally sheets do not have signatures, as monitors were also in hospital and could not present to endorse the results.”
Mutharika also said the election is not a true reflection of the will of many people.
“Much as I find this election unacceptable, but for the sake of peace, I still love our country, which is larger than all of us,” he said. “I therefore ask all Malawians to be peaceful with results if announced.”
However, various election observers, including the Malawi Human Rights Commission, have described the elections as free, fair and credible.
Speaking via televised live broadcast Saturday, Chakwera could not hide his happiness.
“I am so happy, I could dance all night,” he said. “By my heart is bubbling with joy and at the same time with great gratitude to the Lord.”
Political analyst Sheriff Kaisi told VOA via telephone that Chakwera’s victory showed people were tired of Mutharika’s administration.
“You know there is an issue of corruption, which is so rampart in Malawi,” Kaisi said. “You know this issue of nepotism, issue of tribalism.” People got tired of such issues, Kaisi said.