On the morning of Friday, May 31, 2019, as Peter Mutharika was being inaugurated as President of Malawi in Blantyre on the basis of a lawless and unconstitutional election, a wide section of Malawians tuned him out to watch a live broadcast of Lazarus Chakwera announcing his decision to challenge the election result in court. Immediately following the announcement, protests broke out against the Electoral Commission in and around the capital city, where Chakwera commands a lion’s share of political support, delaying Mutharika from taking residence at the State House there.
At the start of the following week, in the middle of the protests, Chakwera unleashed a battalion of seasoned lawyers and an army of evidence gatherers to file his petition in court and begin the arduous work of tendering a mountain of evidence in support of it, naming both the Electoral Commission and Mutharika as respondents to the allegations. Days later, while hosting the US Ambassador to Malawi in his office, Chakwera was teargassed by Police who fired over 200 canisters into the building, creating an international incident that made the news around the world and forced Mutharika to issue a statement blaming no one else but Chakwera for the violence.
Mutharika applied to have Chakwera’s court petition thrown out without trial, arguing that it did not qualify as a petition at all, but on June 21, it was Mutharika’s application which was thrown out. Mutharika’s lawyers immediately moved to appeal to the Supreme Court against the decision to go to trial, but on August 15, his appeal was again thrown out. And so, as a bonafide Petitioner in the case, Chakwera’s evidence and witnesses were allowed to have their day in court, with his voluminous petition taking the longest to be heard, capturing the imagination of the nation with the jaw-dropping testimonies of witnesses who have since become household names: Peter Lackson, Anthony Bendulo, and Daud Suleiman. Their testimony, coupled with electoral documents the Court forced the Electoral Commission to disclose at Chakwera’s request, was effectively the turning point at which it became evident to the whole nation that Mutharika’s defence was in tatters. In retaliation, while Chakwera was battering him in court, Mutharika attended the UN General Assembly in New York and delivered a speech denouncing Chakwera’s followers as terrorists. Though Chakwera was not even in the room at the time, the remarks made it clear to the whole world that Chakwera was inside Mutharika’s head.
Despite that and other public outburst against Chakwera, Mutharika’s nightmare came true on 3rd February, 2020, when Chakwera’s Petition for nullification was among those upheld by the court, ruling that Mutharika’s election had indeed been unlawful and unconstitutional, thus permanently ruining Mutharika’s legacy and relegating his presidency to the undesirable pages of Malawi’s history. While Mutharika immediately began helplessly chasing shadows with feeble attempts to suspend and appeal the court decision, Chakwera’s political machinery was already in place to start implementing the court’s consequential orders with immediate effect. On the one hand, the Speaker of Parliament, a legislator from Chakwera’s party, which has more parliamentarians than any other party, began rolling out the legislative changes the court had ordered for a fresh election. On the other hand, the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament, chaired and dominated by legislators from Chakwera’s party, also began summoning senior Election Officials for public spanking for their incompetence.
So whether on the Streets, or in the Courts, or in the House of Parliament, Chakwera’s moves and machinery have bested Mutharika and reduced him to a ceremonial and lame duck President. Mutharika will be hoping that the Supreme Court, his final place of refuge, will save his presidency from total collapse. But this is a hope against hope. Mutharika has the unenviable position of seeking relief from the same Supreme Court that summarily dismissed his first incompetently filed appeal in its entirety back in August, which is also the very same chaired by a Chief Justice who recently reported to law enforcement an attempt by Mutharika’s supporters to pervert the course of justice through the bribery of court judges. Worst still is the fact that there at the Supreme Court, Mutharika must make his last stand without the help of the industrious Attorney General, whose office has been deemed partisan and barred from taking any further part in the case. If, on that chilly final day of May, Mutharika was advised to bank on Chakwera assuming the role of a doting religious cleric and retreating to his vestry to watch idly as wolves trampled on the laws of his country and the rights of his fold, he was grossly misled. It was a grave miscalculation to underestimate the one man in the country with both the political organisation and acumen formidable enough to methodically fashion his undoing.