October 15, 2004

Drive to eliminate corruption brings division

President Mutharika's drive to rid Malawi of high-level corruption has opened up deep divisions within the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) party, according to political observers. Since assuming power in May 2004, Mutharika has tried to come to terms with his election promise to tackle graft, earning praise from donors and opposition parties for his efforts. "There is no way I can rule the same way my predecessor was ruling - I have a different style from his," Mutharika said in response to reports that some top UDF members were irked by their exclusion from key posts in the newly formed government. "Some people want to be in the cabinet for life, and because they have not been included in my cabinet they are not happy," the new president was quoted saying.
Compared to former president Bakili Muluzi, who was often chided for his bloated government, Mutharika began his tenure with a leaner cabinet. His role as a corruption buster was underlined when his administration recently arrested three top ruling party officials. The three were the newly appointed UDF publicity secretary, Humphrey Mvula, charged with corruption and tax evasion at the state-run Shire Bus Lines, the party's secretary-general, Kennedy Makwangwala, charged with damaging property belonging to an independent MP, and Salim Bagus for tax evasion. Bagus, who served as a cabinet minister under Muluzi, is now the UDF's organising secretary.
Mutharika, a surprise choice as the UDF's candidate for the 2004 elections, was seen as Muluzi's final attempt to influence the future of Malawian politics after increasing pressure by civil society forced him to abandon his bid for a third term. However, analysts point to Mutharika's apparent about-turn on Muluzi. While political observers say the ongoing debate among the country's politicians is a sign of a maturing democracy, donors prefer to focus on Mutharika's push for greater transparency in government. (IRIN)

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