Chakwera has his work lower out



By Adem Ok. Abebe

Lazarus Chakwera’s victory as the brand new president of Malawi represents a exceptional reversal of fortunes for Peter Mutharika, who virtually a yr in the past was declared the winner in nationwide polls. However the choice was annulled by the nation’s judges, and a date for a brand new election set.

The end result has been greeted with euphoria by the victor and his supporters. However as this subsides, the laborious, lengthy work begins.

Near the highest of the checklist of huge issues going through the nation is that it’s starkly divided alongside ethnic and regional strains. Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Celebration enjoys assist from the central and northern elements of the nation, whereas Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Celebration is robust within the south.

The second problem is that the nation’s judges, in annulling final yr’s ballot, set down new election guidelines. The rerun winner must garner greater than half of the vote. This changed the “first previous the submit” system.

The hazard is {that a} mixture of ethnic and regionalised voting and a run-off system could encourage occasion proliferation and fragmentation.

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


For the rerun he fashioned an alliance with Saulos Chilima, the previous vice-president. Chilima will now function Chakwera’s deputy.

Chakwera might want to construct consensus to make sure that the brand new electoral legal guidelines don’t worsen tensions within the nation. And he might want to forge a brand new sort of politics that balances cooperation with competitors.

Chakwera would possibly simply have what it takes to construct bridges.

He was president of the Malawi Assemblies of God, the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination, for greater than 20 years. He additionally has a background in philosophy and served as a theology lecturer and preacher.

Chakwera emerged as a distinguished political voice following his registration within the 2014 elections as presidential candidate for the opposition Malawi Congress Celebration. He misplaced to Mutharika however continued to function the occasion’s chief and member of the Nationwide Meeting.

He stood towards Mutharika once more final yr. Preliminary bulletins declared Mutharika president with over 38 p.c. However Chakwera (who got here second with about 35 p.c) and Chilema (who got here third with 20 p.c) challenged the end result. The nation’s judges annulled the elections for failing acceptable ranges of electoral integrity.

Chakwera’s victory is exceptional in that it’s the primary time in Africa {that a} repeat presidential election rerun has resulted in a reversal of outcomes. The one repeat rerun that’s been held was in Kenya in 2017. However the ballot ordered by the courts didn’t reverse the end result.

The election end result strengthens Malawi’s opposition. Chakwera’s victory implies that three of the nation’s six aggressive presidential elections have been gained by opposition candidates.

For this exceptional turnaround, various elements got here into play.

The primary was that Malawians protested often towards manifest irregularities within the 2019 elections. And the army protected protesters. One other main issue was that the opposition coalesced across the Tonse Alliance, primarily between Chakwera and Chilema.

For his or her half, courts insisted on complying with excessive requirements of electoral integrity.

Lastly, the Electoral Fee needed to ship markedly improved elections regardless of restricted assets, time and the constraints of Covid-19.

Malawian elections have traditionally proven regionalised and ethnic voting patterns, with presidential candidates drawing on compartmentalised strongholds. Political alliances have successfully been handy methods of aggregating ethnic votes.

The voting patterns of the newest presidential elections have been no completely different. The Tonse Alliance picked up votes primarily from northern and central areas. Mutharika fared effectively within the south.

The newly launched runoff electoral system may exacerbate the sample of regionalised voting as opposition candidates search to make it to – and lead – an alliance within the second spherical. The newest elections prevented this hazard as a result of the invalidated elections helped the opposition candidates gauge their energy, facilitating the formation of the Tonse Alliance.

In future, the primary spherical of elections could need to serve this goal, resulting in a really fragmented electoral subject on the outset.

The brand new electoral system can also make second spherical elections a certainty. Contemplating the logistics, price, and potential violence related to organising repeat elections, this can be undesirable.

Furthermore, if legislative elections are carried out earlier than presidential elections, two-round elections may systematically end result within the president’s occasion being unable to safe a legislative majority. This is able to be a recipe for executive-legislative paralysis, already a problem in Malawi.

To make sure that the runoff system encourages cross-regional and cross-ethnic occasion formation, the brand new president ought to encourage political dialogue to refine the electoral system.

Nigeria and Kenya have established electoral methods that require presidential candidates to win not solely a nationwide majority, but additionally safe a sure stage of electoral assist throughout completely different areas. This might encourage coalitions of dedication earlier than the primary spherical, somewhat than coalitions of comfort earlier than the second. These coalitions could in flip make second spherical elections pointless.

As well as, reconsideration of the bulk threshold to keep away from a second spherical could additional encourage pre-election coalitions whereas additionally decreasing possibilities of a second spherical.

No African nation has devised a wise means of coping with run-offs. However a number of Latin American nations have launched artistic guidelines. In Costa Rica, a candidate wins within the first spherical if she or he secures 40 p.c of the votes. In Argentina, a candidate profitable 45 p.c or between 40 p.c and 45 p.c with a 10 p.c lead over the runner-up avoids a run-off.

The timing of legislative and govt elections can allow a modicum of governability and keep away from systematic legislative-executive impasse. And legislative elections ought to ideally comply with, somewhat than precede, presidential elections, or be held alongside the second, somewhat than first, spherical. Holding first spherical presidential elections alongside legislative elections could also be comprehensible as it might imply typically avoiding repeat elections. However the trade-off might be authorities paralysis.

Because the electoral system has been determined by means of a judicial choice, it lacks the nuances and particulars that could be essential to advance fascinating targets, reminiscent of encouraging pan-Malawian events and decreasing the possibilities of repeat elections. Such nuances are the hallmarks of political processes.

Accordingly, the brand new president could must launch processes to make sure that Malawi’s constitutional democracy stands on a agency foundation.

In the end, the success of Malawi’s democratic dispensation will probably be measured on the extent to which it delivers public items – alternatives, improvement, accountability – for the individuals.

Fittingly, a distinguished Malawian thought-leader, the late Thandika Mkandawire, warned towards “choiceless democracy” – when governing events alternate however supply no coverage options.

As Worldwide IDEA’s International State of Democracy Indices point out, progress in consultant democracy in Africa has not been accompanied by enhancements in neutral administration within the type of predictable enforcement of legal guidelines and discount of corruption. Actually, within the case of Malawi, regardless of democratic beneficial properties for the reason that 1990s, neutral administration could have declined.

Accordingly, Chakwera should do greater than merely meet his inaugural assuranceto the opposition that he would



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