After a major setback, everyone feels the need to move on, but moving on is not always as is as it sounds. For most Malawians who voted in this year’s election, moving on will be particularly difficult.
According to the Malawi Electoral Commission’s unverified results, 63.4% of Malawian voters cast their vote for a presidential candidate who failed to win.
That’s a total of 3,352,755 people whose hearts ached and whose voices were muffled into a deafening silence when the Electoral Commission announced Arthur Peter Mutharika as the winner of this year’s election.
Now coping with the loss of a contest in which one has invested so much prayer, energy, money, hope, and dreams would be hard enough, but the hardships triggered by the outcome of this year’s election on those whose candidates did not make it is much worse.
To begin with, this was the longest election in Malawi’s 20-year old democracy, forcing some people to wait for 3 days to cast their vote and forcing everyone to wait for 8 to 10 days to hear the results of the election.
While the long wait sweetened the outcome for those whose candidate won, it made the outcome all the more bitter for those whose candidates didn’t win.
Secondly, this was the most hotly contested election of them all, and the expense of energy, money, and prayer was greater, making the loss all the more hard to swallow.
Thirdly, this was the most dramatic election to date, moving people’s emotions all over the place.
Consider the range of emotions that this election has taken people through within the space of 10 days:
- a feeling of joy at the first signs of victory;
- a feeling of shock at the news of a government official’s suicide;
- a feeling of suspicion triggered by his alleged accusatory suicide note;
- a feeling of fear after Joyce Banda issued a presidential order to nullify the election;
- a feeling of curiosity at MEC’s admission of serious irregularities in their figures;
- a feeling of hope at MEC’s announcement of a vote recount needed to verify the results;
- a feeling of anger at one political party’s efforts to block the recount using court injunctions that the High Court has since ruled should never have been granted;
- a feeling of nervousness as people waited for the court to give a ruling on whether the recount would happen;
- a feeling of despair at the court’s incapacity to grant the extra time needed for a vote recount supported by the majority of parties;
- a feeling of resignation at the news that MEC had no choice but to announce the results without a manual audit or verification.
The vicissitudes of emotion have left many in a state of exhaustion.
Even so, the hardest feeling about the outcome of this election for those whose candidates did not win is undoubtedly the state of confusion they have been left in.
The electoral system has confused many by sending a mixed message, saying in one breath that the results being reported have irregularities serious enough to warrant a manual recount of all the votes across the country, while at the same time calling the results credible in the absence of such a recount.
As such, while people were emotionally prepared for the disappointment of losing the election, they were not at all emotionally prepared for the devastation of losing their trust in the consistency of the electoral system.
The double speak from the electoral body has even had the unintended effect of destroying many people’s confidence in the value of their vote. And whenever an election is conducted in such a way that the voters end up questioning the value of their votes, democracy has scored an own goal.
Similarly, the judicial system has confused people by sending a mixed message, refusing to give the People’s Party an injunction to force MEC to do a vote recount, then granting the Democratic Progressive Party an injunction to block MEC from doing a vote recount, then granting the Malawi Congress Party an injunction to vacate the DPP injunction, then later ruling that no injunction against the vote recount should ever have been granted!
Another instance of the judicial system’s duplicity is how the court took 48 hours of the electoral cycle to decide whether MEC could go through with it’s planned recount, only to rule that while MEC does indeed have the power to do a recount, it would not be given the time to get it done.
In like manner, the legal system has confused people by sending a mixed message, stipulating laws that give MEC the power to do “whatever it deems necessary” to deliver a credible election result, while at the same time stipulating that an extension of time beyond 8 days to verify the results is completely out of the question, meaning that MEC couldn’t really do “whatever” it wants as the law says.
The political system has been the worst culprit at sending mixed and confusing messages to the electorate. Parties signed a pledge to keep the peace, but some of them were still threatening war.
Parties made promises of transparency, but some of them still blocked a vote recount that would have made the electoral process more transparent.
By extension, the gubernatorial system itself has also engaged in double speak, with the president vouching for the electoral process in place before the election and the same president discrediting the electoral process during the election.
Even more worryingly in this regard, we saw a president invoking executive powers allegedly given to her by the Constitution to nullify an ongoing election, only to later learn that the section she cited does not even exist in the constitution.
One would hope that the duplicity of all these systems and the confusion it has left in its wake would be checked by the credibility of the media, but in Malawi that would be hoping for too much.
Whether it was online, in print, on television, or on radio, the lines between news, gossip, propaganda, and lies were blurred in this election.
We had media houses telling us that the results they were announcing were unofficial and should not be taken seriously, while at the same time telling us that the unofficial results were credible.
When MEC announced that the results coming in had serious irregularities and a recount would be needed, the media said their reporters had no way of knowing the results had irregularities, as if comparing the total number of votes cast at a polling center to the total number of voters registered there requires a doctorate in nuclear physics.
People can cope with losing an election, just as they have coped throughout life with losing greater treasures like a loved one, a job, a home, a friendship, or a president.
What is difficult for them to cope with is the loss of trust in the integrity of systems and the outcomes they produce. People can cope with seeing another team win a game or an election, so long as they don’t lose trust that the game was won fairly or transparently.
In an election, someone must win, and the rest must lose, and this has happened in Malawi. But in an election, no one must lose confidence or trust in the systems entrusted to facilitate the contest.
To lose confidence or faith is to lose too much, and this is the heavy price at which this election has come. As a result, millions of people are now asking questions that they never thought they would ever ask: Is my vote worth casting if the system says it is not worth verifying?
Is God worth trusting if He did not answer my prayers for the system to work? Is the winner of this election worth respecting if he did not want his victory to be verified?
Is good worth fighting for if the system is too corrupt or broken to make progress? There are no easy answers to these questions and no easy path of recovery from the post-election trauma that has triggered these questions.
But there is hope in the God of the Cross and the Resurrection, for the death of Jesus reminds those who suffer loss that God does not waste a crushing defeat, just as the resurrection of Jesus reminds those who win that God does not despise a victory.
It is also important to remember that God’s mind is so much more vast than ours that while we tend to participate in an event like an election with the single purpose of winning, He on the other hand participates in the same event with multiple goals that may or may not include our definition of success.
God can participate in an election either to expose evil, or to thwart evil, or to frustrate evil, or to prevent evil, or to do all of the above or another range of purposes altogether.
Those whose candidates of choice did not win must not be so presumptuous as to think that the only thing God has prevented in this election is their candidate’s victory.
God is bigger than our victories and our losses. How can you know that in subjecting your candidate to a bitter disappointment, the Lord has not prevented the whole country from plunging into anarchy either now or later had there been a different result?
The truth is that our feelings of devastation and jubilation react only to what we know, but we know only in part. We do not know what God knows, nor do we even know what it is we do not know.
So if you are reeling from this loss or any other loss, or reeling from the feeling that the loss you have suffered seems unjust, trust the God of all comfort to comfort you with His presence and with the confidence that He knows all things and makes them beautiful in His time, in His way, and for His glory.
Trust that He has done this for your good, and do not presume to know what your good is. Is this not the same God who stirred the Babylonians to ransack Jerusalem and take the Israelites to Babylon as slaves and captives for seven decades?
Did that event not look unjust, harsh, and unreasonable?
And yet as soon as it was done and many were left asking why God’s ears were deaf to their cries for victory against a formidable opponent, God sent Jeremiah to tell them: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.
So put your faith in what He says, not what you see. May God bless our new president, keep our country safe, and comfort you, for He does not despise a broken heart. Give Him yours.