June 4, 2004

Opposition leaders join ruling party / New President promises wide-ranging reforms

In a move which analysts say will weaken Malawi's opposition parties, the third placed candidate in last month's presidential election, Gwanda Chakuamba, the opposition Mgwirizano coalition candidate, has announced the surprise move that he was to join the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) and drop a court challenge to the poll. The Mgwirizano coalition had recently filed court papers seeking a re-run of the May election. The ruling party candidate Bingu wa Mutharika was declared the winner of the presidential ballot, despite concerns expressed by national and international observers about the conduct of the poll. Chakuamba was considered by many as Wa Mutharika's most serious political rival during the election, but according to the poll results he finished second to John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). "This is very disappointing," said political analyst Rafiq Hajat. "What Chakuamba has done has shocked everyone and it is a defeat for democracy. Chakuamba has betrayed all those who trusted him and all those who voted for him." Also joining the UDF from the seven-party Mgwirizano coalition was Sam Kandodo Banda of the Mgode party.

In the meantime, Malawi's new president, Bingu wa Mutharika, has promised wide-ranging economic reforms that, he says, will turn the country around. The list includes strict budgetary control, strengthening the National Audit Office, Accountant General and Anti-Corruption Bureau, and trimming the Cabinet from his predecessor's 46 members to a "small but effective one". "I shall ensure strict investigation of politicians and public officers at all levels - who are found in corruption, theft, mismanagement and abuse of power in all its forms," said the 71-year-old development economist. Mutharika said his immediate priorities would be to implement public sector reforms aimed at instilling confidence in the civil service and to introduce private sector reforms, including reforms in agriculture, as one way of fighting chronic hunger. He said Malawi was not poor, "but the people are", and his government would wage war against poverty. (IRIN/This Day, Lagos)

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