Churches in Zambia admire Malawi political change: Chatham House says ‘lesson for African opposition’

Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) says what has happened in Malawi – overturning of the result in the fresh presidential contest sets a bold precedent for the continent – and  that the arrogance of abusing State machinery eventually backfires.

President Lazarus Chakwera  after talking an oath of office administered by Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda (L).-Photo (C)Govati Nyirenda 

In an interview with local media in Zambia, CCZ general secretary Father Emmanuel Chikoya said the electoral process leading up to the fresh presidential election in Malawi highlighted why separation of powers was essential.

“The elections in Malawi are a learning curve. The whole process leading to the re-run is a learning curve and must be a wake-up call for all other countries,” he said.

Malawi is only the second African country to annul a presidential election, after Kenya in 2017. It is the first in which the opposition has won the re-run.

The initial May 2019 vote had narrowly returned incumbent Peter Mutharika to the presidency. But in February 2020 a landmark ruling by Malawi’s constitutional court annulled the result citing ‘widespread, systematic and grave’ irregularities, including the now-infamous use of corrective fluid in vote tallying, and the Malawi Electoral Commission’s (MEC) failure to address complaints before announcing results. New elections were ordered within 150 days.

In a decisive contrast with the previous year, the fresh polls on 23 June saw the coming together of Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and running mate Saulos Chilima of the UTM Party  to head a coalition of nine opposition parties – having fiercely competed as the leading challengers previously.

The constitutional court ruling had also changed Malawi’s electoral system, replacing a first-past-the-post model with one demanding an outright majority, which further encouraged the regional power bases of Malawi’s opposition to cast ego aside and work in alliance with each other.

In tandem with a slick digital campaign, the new alliance travelled widely to hold rallies across what is one of the world’s youngest countries, while the elderly Mutharika remained largely confined to the capital. It would be a strategy that ultimately delivered Chakwera to the presidency, polling 58 per cent of votes to Mutharika’s 39.

Meanwhile, the London-based Chatham House think tank says the  political opposition elsewhere in Africa should take note from Malawi’s coalition – dialogue, not division, can offer a genuine path to change, especially in those countries with less favourable institutional conditions.

In his analysis on Malawi elections,  Fergus Kell Projects Assistant, Africa Programme at Chatham House  pointed ou that neighbouring Zambia would certainly do well to heed this example ahead of a pivotal election of its own in 2021. Here is  part of his write up:

A victory built on institutional precedent

Yet the story here is not only about throwing out an incumbent: Malawians had already done so twice before, rejecting sitting presidents at the polls in 1994 and 2014. It is also not unfamiliar to see public opinion and the judiciary work in parallel to uphold the constitution: former president Bakili Muluzi was twice blocked from abolishing term limits by popular demonstration during his second term, and again prevented from running for a third time in 2009 by the constitutional court.

The new result did not arise as the foregone conclusion of a judicial miracle. Rather, throughout the re-run process Malawi has had to repeatedly draw upon the strength of its broad-based institutional foundations. The image of the constitutional court judges arriving to deliver their annulment verdict in February wearing bulletproof vests under their robes(opens in new window) was a stark reminder that this was never the easy route to take.

In contrast to many other African states, Mutharika was unable to call upon military support as the Malawi Defence Forces (MDF) had moved to shield protesting citizens and protect the judiciary since the 2019 election. The MDF also had previous form in this respect, having defended then-vice president Joyce Banda’s constitutional right to assume the presidency after the incumbent’s death in 2012.

And this institutional resilience from the army would facilitate a smooth and mostly peaceful election process during the re-run, despite Mutharika attempts to intervene by replacing the MDF’s commander and his deputy in March 2020.

Just ten days before the fresh vote the Mutharika government switched focus back to the country’s legal system by attempting to enforce the premature retirement of Malawi’s chief justice, only to be blocked by the high court. Even as unofficial tallies trickled in, Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) demanded the MEC annul the result: claiming their monitors were intimidated in MCP strongholds, and requesting unlawful access to scrutinise null and void votes.

Headed by a new chairperson, this time the MEC displayed enormous patience in the verification process and openly tackled complaints, now mainly from the DPP. On social media, Malawians celebrated the contrast between images of tally sheets from 2019 and the re-run.

Writing a new chapter

There are lessons here too for international partners. UK diplomacy played a subtle role in encouraging Mutharika to accept the legal process – he was invited to appear at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in January – while also helping promoting early dialogue among opposition parties.

At a time of pressure for UK engagement to offer clear strategic value, the impact of less easily quantifiable forms of influence should not be overlooked, especially as international observer missions effectively went missing in the discredited 2019 election.

Preliminary statements back then from the Commonwealth(opens in new window)European Union(opens in new window)African Union(opens in new window) and Southern African Development Community (SADC)(opens in new window) struck a mostly congratulatory tone and were non-committal on the issues that would prove decisive in the court ruling. None went on to release their final reports.

Malawi must now start to move beyond election mode. Though COVID-19 cases remain low by global standards, a budget already heavily dependent on foreign aid and hampered by 18 months of political uncertainty will be slashed further by the pandemic’s impact. The IMF has predicted GDP growth of just 1% in 2020, down from a pre-coronavirus projection of 5%.

As it inherits a major balance of payments crisis, mounting debt and with no tourism revenue to fall back on, the new government will need to use its political capital to push for immediate reform. But it must not forget the core tenet of its campaign.

The coalition that defeated Mutharika united the MCP’s rural support base with the middle-class urban following of the UTM. This spirit of unity and inclusion must be expanded and focus on long-term recovery. On this undertaking – unlike the polls – there will be no opportunity for a re-run.

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Uphowspob
Uphowspob
7 months ago

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winstonmsowoya
winstonmsowoya
7 months ago

GERALD CHIRWA,ARE YOU HALF-MINDED?WHAT HAVE THE SO-CALLED IMPERIALISTS DONE?WAS HASTINGS BANDA AN IMPERIALIST WHEN BRUTALLY RULED OPPRESSED PEOPLE OF MALAWI? HOW ABOUT OBNOXIOUS ROBERT MUGABE? WAS IDDI AMIN AN IMPERIALIST? HOW ABOUT THE BRUTE YOWELI MSEVENI OF UGANDA? AFRICA IS FASTLY DESTROYING ITSELF AND PLEASE MR. CHIRWA LEARN THE HISTORY OF MODERN AFRICA BEFORE YOU BLAME THE SO-CALLED IMPERIALISTS.AFTERALL,MORETHAN 6O YEARS OF SELF-RULE,THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT PEOPLE OF AFRICA IS FLOWING THROUGH THE DIRTY HANDS OF THE BRUTAL AFRICAN LEADERS.MR.CHIRWA,WE MUST BLAME OUR OBNOXIOUS MONSTERS LIKE PETER MUTHALIKA WHO WAS TURNING OUR COUNTRY AS HIS OWN PROPERTY.

Marumbo
7 months ago

Malawi’s corrupt judiciary simply robbed the rulling DPP of its 2019 victory. Malawi’s rerun and the “winning” of the bloody opposition party leader Chakwera can not and should not be considered as an African Model in any way. What we have witnessed in Malawi is a miscarriage of justice where the tumbuka minority has used the tumbuka dominated judiciary to wrestle power from the bonafide winner Mutharika who was voted into power by the majority in 2019. Unless if you want to learn how the judiciary can remove a clear winning president from power by manipulating and twisting the electoral… Read more »

ale
ale
7 months ago
Reply to  Marumbo

You just stupid by nature that’s the way it’s going to be forget about your tribal party coming back to root and divide Malawi never again

VYOTO
VYOTO
7 months ago
Reply to  Marumbo

IF DPP WON THE 2019 ELECTIONS WHEN IT COMPETED ALONE THEN WHY DID IT LOSE IN 2020 ELECTIONS RE RUN WHEN THIS TIME AROUND IT WAS IN AN ALLIANCE WITH TWO OTHER PARTIES, UDF LED BY A FORMER PRESIDENT BAKILI MULUZI AND HIS SON , A FORMER CABINET MINISTER ATUPELE MULUZI AND DEPECO????????? IT IS WRONG TO BLAME THE JUDICIARY LED BY ANDREW NYIRENDA A TUMBUKA ON THE INTERPRETATION OF THE 50+ 1 WHICH WAS ALREADY IN OUR CONSTITUTION.THE 50 + 1 IS GOOD FOR MALAWIANS, IT ENCOURAGES WIDER OWNERSHIP OF MALAWI AND PARTICIPATION IN DECISION MAKING AS OPPOSED TO… Read more »

ERUTU
ERUTU
7 months ago
Reply to  Marumbo

Bodza

Kaitano Kagalu
Kaitano Kagalu
7 months ago
Reply to  Marumbo

There was an Election on 23 June 2020, were you there?

Opportunist
Opportunist
7 months ago
Reply to  Marumbo

They didn’t win anything.Just concede defeat honourably

Native Son
Native Son
7 months ago
Reply to  Marumbo

Marumbo, I am Kenyan. I just came here to see what is going on in Nyasaland. I totally disagree with you ……….and yes, I am NOT Malawian. When you say that the corrupt judiciary stole the election for H.E. Chakwera by robbing off H.E. Mutharika, you are wrong! Let me give you an illustration by giving you our own example in Kenya. H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta beat Hon. Raila Odinga by 1.4 million votes (54% of the vote). You also have to achieve a quarter of the vote in half of all the counties (24 counties). We have 47 counties. Uhuru… Read more »

Malawi belong to the citizens

Atleast they have learnt lessons that Africans they do think better and they can do anything they want to prosper their citizens.

JONES
JONES
7 months ago

Asiyeni a Chathawa KI<IKIKIKI

Octopussy
Octopussy
7 months ago

Ma Zambians waveleni chisoni ba Malawi napapata. Manje muzasilila judicial coup. Don’t just condemn When there is military coup. But also condemn judicial coup in Malawi where the judicial coup has been rubberstamped by illiterate voters in an hastily organised election marred by voter apathy and violence. For the first time voter apathy reached 36% and lots of young eligible voters were denied the right to register and vote

ERUTU
ERUTU
7 months ago
Reply to  Octopussy

😩

Gerald Chirwa
Gerald Chirwa
7 months ago

This Chatham house is full of shit..they have the nerve to be comment on matters which they did not give a damn in the first place..did they send any observers on the street or care about this election..just because the opposition won..then they are experts analysing this and that..TO HELL with them and their agenda..we have enough analysts and observers on the street..these are the people who voted..the masses who are poor..not some fancy idiot seeking attention in London..and Nyasa times you like to legitimise this idiots..coz U think your story is worth reading only when you quote some idiot… Read more »

gonani sikelo
gonani sikelo
7 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Chirwa

Shut-up you! you are an idiot. they are saying the truth.

T Makala
T Makala
7 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Chirwa

While you have made your point clearly…. the use of swearing words was not necessary!! You sounded as if you have personal issues to settle with Chatham House. This time everyone has a right to express their views and analyse stuff. It’s up to us (readers) to judge…

Nyonyo Kaka
Nyonyo Kaka
7 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Chirwa

Akulu ndi khani yomweyi kapena palinso ina?

Mtonga Mwana
Mtonga Mwana
7 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Chirwa

Kumeneko kunali kulira kwa CADET. Mpingo nyimbo

Charles
Charles
7 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Chirwa

Gerald Chirwa, you are entitled to your own opinion but so are other people. For reasons best known to yourself, you clearly show your dislike for Chatham house that you describe as ‘full of shit’ and that ‘they did not send any observers on the street’! Many people and organisations around the world have commented on the just ended re-run Malawi elections. They are impressed with their organisation, our judicial systems and the role played by the MDF and are encouraging other African countries to us as a role model. All these never came to Malawi but here you are,… Read more »

Munthu mlala
Munthu mlala
7 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Chirwa

Eti amwene? They now want to appear intelligent about Malawi issues and they have the audacity to talk about the role the UK played in the process. These people should leave us alone. We did this on our own.

Mabvuto
Mabvuto
7 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Chirwa

The story is worth reading because you read it and it elicited some angry/bitter emotions in you to the point of being incoherent and non-sensical! …….. Gerald Chirwa please take a hike!…… chill before you have a massive heart attack

KotiMan
KotiMan
7 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Chirwa

Hahahahaha……Just take some pain killers, you will be fine. #nyenkhwe

ERUTU
ERUTU
7 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Chirwa

Malawi has shown that it can do things on it’s own without begging from the imperialists (kuzipusitsa).

Viva Malawi 🇲🇼

Kashma
Kashma
7 months ago
Reply to  Gerald Chirwa

We dont even need observers since they are just tourist in Malawi forgot that they come for specific elections. They should never come here WACHITA MANYAZI. YEWO COVID-19

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