Counting votes in Lilongwe. Photo: Amos Gumulira/AFP via Getty

It was not easy to force Malawi's president, Peter Mutharika, from power after a rigged election last year.

How it happened: It took the anger of protesters, the restraint of the army — which protected them rather than cracking down — and the bravery of judges who threw out the result despite attempts to intimidate them. It also took a united opposition. Finally, last week, it took a new election.

The latest: Malawi's electoral commission over the weekend declared Lazarus Chakwera, an opposition leader and former preacher, the runaway winner.

Why it matters: This is a surprising victory for democracy in the southern African country, and it could have ended very differently. Martha Chizuma, who leads Malawi's Human Rights Commission, hopes it will permanently shift Malawi's political trajectory:

"People have seen how politics affects their daily lives. For the past 13 months or so, Malawi’s democracy has matured, probably ten times over. The people of Malawi are quite awake now. I don’t think any Malawian will ever take any rubbish again."
Martha Chizuma, writing in The Continent

What to watch: The new government faces major challenges, and the surge of optimism may not last. But with democracy under strain around the world, Malawi has bucked the trend.

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