March 26, 2007

Churches oppose former president's new bid for power

Attempts by former Malawi president Bakili Muluzi to stage a political comeback by contesting presidential elections in 2009 are creating division in the central African country, with church leaders warning he should not stand. The 24-member Malawi Council of Churches, which includes Anglican, Baptist and Presbyterian denominations, has condemned plans by the former president to contest the 2009 presidential elections, noting he has already served two five-year terms of office. A day after it criticised the move, the MCC was joined on 31 March by the 40-strong Blantyre Pastors' Fraternity which said Muluzi should not stand for the presidency in 2009.
"Presidents should serve for two terms and go to rest," said MCC secretary general, Canaan Phiri. "If there is a loophole in the constitution, which Muluzi wants to use, then it is unfortunate." Phiri noted that the church council had in 2004 spoken out against attempts by the former president to change the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term. He said it was ironic that Muluzi said he now wants to stand in the 2009 elections to defeat incumbent President Bingu Wa Mutharika, who was elected in 2004.
Mutharika had been endorsed by Muluzi to stand as president for the ruling United Democratic Front party after the former president gave up attempts to change the constitution. But nine months after being voted into power, Mutharika left the UDF and set up his own Democratic Progressive Party, saying Muluzi wanted to rule the country from the behind the scenes.
The Malawi constitution stipulates a president can only serve for two consecutive terms. But it does not clarify whether someone who has previously served two terms can stand again at a later date. Muluzi was elected president as leader of the UDF when he won the first democratically contested elections in 1994 after three decades of one-party rule under President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who led the country to independence from Britain in 1964. (ENI, Geneva)

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