“One day God spoke to my heart, and God was not saying I’m pulling you out of ministry, God was saying I’m extending your ministry so that you are able to pastor a whole nation,” he said in a recent video clip released during the electoral campaign.
Chakwera, 65, has for the past seven years led Malawi’s oldest party, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which ruled the country from 1964 to 1994 under dictator Hastings Banda’s one-party rule.
Chakwera led the MCP in 2014’s general election, coming second to Peter Mutharika in the presidential vote.
Ahead of last year’s election, the MCP had lost the previous four presidential elections since 1994, but Chakwera made great efforts to rebrand the party, breaking away from Banda’s iron-fisted rule and re-energising its base.
After Chakwera lost last year’s vote to 79-year-old Mutharika by a narrow margin, he launched what was to become a historic legal challenge.
That election was overturned by Malawi’s top court which found widespread irregularities, including the use of correction fluid to tamper with result sheets.
The judgement shook the African continent, where incumbents rarely lose elections, let alone through the courts.
– ‘The people want change’ –
A re-run election was ordered for June 23 and Chakwera swept to victory, winning more than 58 percent of the vote according to the election commission.
“The people want change. They’re demanding change and they see us as the face of change,” Chakwera told AFP.
For the re-run poll, he obtained the high-profile support of Vice President Saulos Chilima, former president Joyce Banda and several other small political parties.
In his inaugural speech on Sunday, Chakwera pledged a government “that serves not… rules; a government that inspires not infuriates”.
“A government that listens not a government that shouts, a government that fights for you and not against you,” he said after he was sworn in.
Chakwera was born in a village near the capital Lilongwe with no electricity or running water, to a subsistence farmer whose two elder sons died in infancy. He was named Lazarus after the biblical character who was raised from the dead.
He took degrees in philosophy and theology, and was president of the Malawi Assemblies of God from 1989 to 2013 before becoming MCP’s leader.
For many years he was active in the country’s respected Public Affairs Committee (PAC) a religious-based civic rights grouping, as a good governance advocate.
“He was not only a person from the church community in terms of him leading a particular denomination but he participated in various issues of advocacy and good governance,” Malawi Council of Churches secretary general Gilford Matonga told AFP.
Chakwera always signed off his election campaign rallies with a prayer.
The new president, who speaks with a strong American accent, says he loves reading and music — traditional, Western, country and gospel.
“I’m a very quiet person,” he said in a recent interview with AFP.
“I love to sing even when I am by myself, in the shower,” he said, adding “I used to sing gospel”.
He has four children with his wife Monica.