Lazarus Chakwera has been sworn in as Malawi’s new president after winning the southern African country’s re-run election.
He became Malawi’s sixth president following a historic poll held last week, the first time a court-overturned vote in Africa has resulted in the defeat of an incumbent leader.
Following a hard-fought campaign, Mr Chakwera urged national reconciliation in his inaugural speech in the capital, Lilongwe, and spoke directly to supporters of defeated incumbent president Peter Mutharika.
“Perhaps the prospect of my presidency fills you with fear and grief. I want you to remember one thing – that this new Malawi is a home to you, too,” he said. “So long as I am its president it will be a home in which you, too, will prosper.”
Mr Chakwera won with 58.57% of votes cast, according to official results announced by the Malawi Electoral Commission on Saturday night.
There were night-long celebrations in the cities and towns across the country.
Mr Chakwera said it was an honour to stand before the inauguration crowd as their president.
“It’s an honour that fills me with unspeakable joy and immense gratitude. It’s an honour forged in the furnace of your desire and your demand for change,” he said.
Mr Chakwera’s election came after months of determined street protests against the results of the election more than a year ago, in May 2019, in which Mr Mutharika had been declared the winner.
The Constitutional Court struck down the result, citing widespread irregularities including the use of correction fluid on ballots.
It was only the second time in Africa that a court has overturned a presidential election, following a ruling on Kenya’s vote in 2017.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission, one of the observers, endorsed the re-run election as peaceful and transparent.
Speaking to the media in Blantyre, Malawi’s largest city, on Saturday, Mr Mutharika criticised the re-run poll as “the worst in Malawi’s history” but urged the country to “move on peacefully”.
His Democratic Progressive Party issued a statement calling on the electoral commission to annul the results of the second vote and declare a third election, but Mr Mutharika did not call for that when he spoke to the press.
Acknowledging the discontent of Mutharika supporters, Mr Chakwera asked them in his inaugural speech to give him a chance to earn their trust and to make his election a win for all Malawians.
“Those of you that celebrate, celebrate with a humanness that all Malawians deserve so that we have the magnanimity of celebrating a victory that is not for one man, not for one woman, not for one party, not for one group, but for all of us together,” he said.
“That is how we will fulfil the dream of a new Malawi that will be for everyone.”