|16. May 2009
Malawi: Old Rivals Forge New Alliances in Bitter Election
Malawi's bitter political struggle will be taken up by the voters on May 19 when the country heads for the polls to choose a new president and parliament.
Since the last election in 2004, President Bingu wa Mutharika has fallen out with his one-time sponsor, former president Bakili Muluzi. As a result he now faces the 2004 second-placed candidate, John Tembo, with Muluzi backing Tembo.
Mutharika has identified Tembo as his principal challenger, suggesting that the other five candidates are not serious contenders. One of the five, Loveness Gondwe, is the only woman contesting the presidency.
Mutharika is fighting this election as the candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which he formed after initially taking the presidency in 2004 as the candidate of Muluzi's United Democratic Front (UDF). Muluzi had anointed Mutharika as his successor after being blocked from seeking a third term as president.
The fallout has generated a fierce contest between Mutharika and Muluzi since 2005. The UDF has tried to impeach Mutharika in Parliament while his government has taken Muluzi to court on corruption charges.
One of the ironies of the power struggle is that Muluzi's UDF is now backing the party he successfully ousted in 1994, when he brought the 30-year rule of Malawi's founding president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, and his Malawi Congress Party, to an end. John Tembo was a powerful figure in Banda's government.
Tensions in Malawi have run high enough for the influential Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) to voice fears that the country could experience the kind of post-election violence seen in Kenya and Zimbabwe last year. In a news conference this week, the independent monitoring body, the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), urged Malawian voters to maintain the peace during the rest of the electoral process.