Malawi’s Chakwera: Remarkable victory, but now the hard work

Lazarus Chakwera’s victory as the new president of Malawi represents a remarkable reversal of fortunes for Peter Mutharika, who almost a year ago was declared the winner in national polls. But the decision was annulled by the country’s judges, and a date for a new election set.

The outcome has been greeted with euphoria by the victor and his supporters. But as this subsides, the hard, long work begins.

Close to the top of the list of big problems facing the country is that it’s starkly divided along ethnic and regional lines. Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party enjoys support from the central and northern parts of the country, while Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party is strong in the south.

The second challenge is that the country’s judges, in annulling last year’s poll, set down new election rules. The rerun winner would have to garner more than half of the vote. This replaced the “first past the post” system.

The danger is that a combination of ethnic and regionalised voting and a run-off system may encourage party proliferation and fragmentation.

Chakwera has his work cut out. He leads a party which was at the forefront of the country’s fight for independence from Britain and went on to rule during the 27-year dictatorship of Hastings Banda. This was ended by the country’s first multi-party elections in 1994.

For the rerun he formed an alliance with Saulos Chilima, the former vice-president. Chilima will now serve as Chakwera’s deputy.

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