This week is a time to be proud of Malawi. Only days ago it looked highly doubtful whether the re-run Presidential election ordered by the constitutional court would be able to be held. A new Electoral Commission had been appointed with only 16 days to prepare for the election and Government was not supplying the necessary funds. In the event, the organisation and conduct of the election has been a triumph, with an Electoral Commission that was clearly on top of the job and citizens who participated in their millions in an orderly and peaceful manner.
With most of the votes counted after Tuesday’s poll it looks like a resounding win for Dr Lazarus Chakwera, leader of the Malawi Congress Party and the nine-party alliance that it formed to contest the election. Unofficial figures give Dr Chakwera close to 60% of the vote while incumbent President Peter Mutharika has around 38%. A third candidate has very little support so it has effectively been a two-horse race.
If the official results confirm the above expectation, it will be the first time in the history of southern Africa that a flawed election has been successfully challenged in court and the opposition has gone on to win the re-run contest.
The political drama of this year will live long in the memory in Malawi. It includes a number of heroes. The judges, who did their job with integrity and professionalism, demonstrated that the independence of the judiciary is alive and well regardless what pressures might be applied by the executive arm of government. The opposition leaders Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima showed great dignity, forbearance and respect for the rule of law as they pursued their case through the courts over many months. The Malawi Electoral Commission, having inherited a shambolic situation, turned it around in short order to conduct a model election.
Above all, however, it is the ordinary people who have been the heroes of the hour. It was they who came on to the streets in their thousands to demonstrate their unwillingness to accept a flawed election. It was they who peacefully and constitutionally but with unyielding determination ensured that due process was followed and justice was done. It was they who, despite a highly polarized political situation, fulfilled their democratic duty in a calm and dignified way when it came to polling day. At a time when there are challenges on all sides, they have created fresh hope for their country.