Lazarus Chakwera: The bishop who has made history in Malawi

Lazarus Chakwera, the leader of Malawi’s main opposition, addresses supporters on 20 June before his election victory. Photograph: Amos Gumulira /AFP

When the new Malawi President was born on April 5, 1955 in Lilogwe, his father, a subsistence farmer, named him Lazarus. Lazarus Chakwera.

This is because two of his sons born ahead of Chakwera had died in infancy. His father, believing that he would live, named him Lazarus as the Bible character raised from the dead.

Sixty-five years later, the boy was on Sunday, June 29, sworn in as the country’s sixth president in his hometown

This follows the repeat presidential election on Tuesday, June 23, hailed as one of the greatest electoral democracy strides in Africa. He beat incumbent President Arthur Peter Mutharika, who is accused to rigging the May 21, 2019 presidential election.

Chakwera makes it to Africa’s history books as the first opposition leader to trounce the incumbent in a presidential re-run.

The Malawi Election Commission declared him the winner on Saturday with a dominant 58.6 per cent of the vote ahead of Mutharika, who termed the polls as the worst in the country’s history.

So who is this man, Lazarus Chakwera?

Dr Chakwera is a bishop and is married to Monica with whom they have four children.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts (Philosophy) Degree from the University of Malawi, Honours degree from the University of the North, Sovenga in South Africa and a Masters in Theology from the University of South Africa.

In 2000, he was awarded his Doctorate of Ministry by the Trinity International University in the US and later got his professorship from the Pan Africa Theological Seminary in 2005.

He has largely worked in the church and took many by surprise when he decided to join politics in 2013.

He worked as an instructor at the Assemblies of God School of Theology from 1983 to 2000, where he became the Principal in 1996. He has also been the co-director and a lecturer at All Nations Theological Seminary and has since 1989 been at the helm of Malawi Assemblies of God presidency.

POLITICS

He declared his interest in running for president on April 14, 2013 on the Malawi Congress Party ticket for the 2014 General Election.

Although he lost the controversial presidential polls, he was elected as MP, Lilongwe North constituency.

As he had promised his supporters in the previous polls, he joined the presidential race in the 2019 and was endorsed by former President Joyce Banda.

The polls, as declared by Malawi’s Constitutional Court, were widely rigged in favour of Mutharika.

Mutharika was declared the winner of the May vote by a narrow margin with 38.5 per cent of the vote, garnering 1.94 million votes, while Chakwera got 1.78 million votes. Saulos Chilima of United Transformation Movement finished third with one million votes.

Having ‘lost’ by just 159,000 votes, Chakwera alleged he was robbed of victory and went to court.

The Constitutional and Supreme Courts were critical of how the Malawi Electoral Commission handled the polls, finding chairperson Jane Ansah and her commissioners incompetent.

The 2019 election results also triggered months of nationwide protests, calling for new elections and demanding the Ansah’s removal.

Ansah resigned in May and Mutharika appointed ex-High Court judge Chifundo Kachale as her replacement. He promised a free, fair and credible presidential election.

ALLIANCE FORMATION

In the background, Chikwera was crafting a mammoth of a coalition to ouster Mutharika, brother to Bingu wa Mutharika, who was president from May 2004 until his death in April 2012.

Chakwera formed the Tonse Alliance, a group of nine opposition parties that he and his running mate Chilima.

With the one million votes Chilima had garnered in the nullified poll, Mutharika’s goose was as good as cooked.

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