BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) – The opposition has won Malawi’s historic iteration of the presidential election, the first time a court-overturned vote in Africa has led to the defeat of a sitting leader.
Lazarus Chakwera’s victory at the end of Saturday was the result of months of determined street protests in the South African nation and a unanimous Constitutional Court decision to dismiss widespread irregularities in the May 2019 elections – including the use of correction fluid on ballot papers – not stand could keep.
President Peter Mutharika, who had sought a second five-year term, called the repeat of the election earlier Saturday “the worst in Malawi’s history.” He claimed that his party’s observers were beaten and intimidated in Tuesday’s elections, but Malawi’s human rights committee, an observer, called the vote peaceful and transparent.
Chakwera won with 58% of the votes, or 2.6 million votes out of 4.4 million votes cast. Mutharika received 1.7 million. Supporters waving the flag cheered as the results were read and some street celebrations began. Fireworks popped.
“I’m so happy to be dancing all night,” Chakwera, former leader of the Malawi Assemblies of God Church, told reporters. “This is a victory for the Malawians, a victory for democracy.”
Malawi’s drama was only the second time in Africa that a court overturned the presidential election, after ruling on the vote in Kenya in 2017. In the new election in Kenya, the president won while the opposition was boycotted.
As Malawi prepared for his new ballot, incumbent Vice President Saulos Chilima, who split last year’s results with Chakwera, instead decided to stand as his running mate in an effort to maximize opportunities to dismay Mutharika .
Some celebrations started Thursday evening when Malawi’s state broadcaster reported that Chakwera was way ahead with all the votes in. But the election committee, renewed since the court’s ruling, indicated that it took time to meet legal requirements when verifying the results.
The committee’s new chairman, Judge Chifundo Kachale, stated during the announcement of the results that “it has been a very interesting journey.” He said the turnout was 64% from 6.8 million registered voters.
An attempt by the Mutharika government to get the Chief Justice of Malawi to step down just days before the new elections failed amid protest. Now the Chief Justice is expected to curse in Chakwera on Sunday.
Aware that time was running out, 79-year-old Mutharika asked the country on Saturday to “ move on peacefully ” and respect the presidency.
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