Malawi: Presidents fight to become Presidents again

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Bakili Muluzi

Malawians vote Tuesday in parliamentary and presidential elections wiith a record 220 women running in the polls, representing about 20% of all candidates for the 193 seats in the elections which could reignite political tensions and threaten western donor funding in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Reports indicate that the incumbent leader, president Bingu wa Mutharika’s chances of victory may have increased after Malawi’s Constitutional Court on Saturday upheld a decision to throw out an application by former president Bakili Muluzi to contest the election.

Malawi’s constitutional court ruled Saturday that the African nation’s first democratically elected president cannot compete in next week’s election. The court disqualified former President Bakili Muluzi because he already had served the maximum two five-year terms allowed under the constitution.

The Malawi Electoral Commission on March 20 rejected Muluzi’s nomination papers but he appealed, saying he has been out of office for the past five years. “A person who served two consecutive terms would have served maximum terms,” said Judge Edward Twea.

Saturday’s decision effectively ended the political career of Muluzi, who won the first multiparty elections in 1994, and led a constitutional conference that decided there should be term limits to deter life presidents.

Muluzi succeeded President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, whose 10 years in office were marred by allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Muluzi and main opposition leader John Tembo had forged an unofficial alliance to take on wa Mutharika. Bakili Muluzi

He won’t quit

Although he can no longer run for president, Muluzi is unlikely to quit the bid to beat the incumbent.

Wa Mutharika’s tight fiscal management may give him an advantage despite growing frustration among the poor. He has won billions of dollars in debt relief for driving reforms that have steered growth of about 7% a year for the past three years.

Seven candidates are in the race. Wa Mutharika took office in 2004, after winning an election marred by violence and accusations of ballot-rigging.

Reports say an opposition win could throw the country into uncertainty as the global economic crisis hits agricultural exports and it may encourage western donors to reconsider projects.

Donors account for 80% of Malawi’s development budget and stability is crucial for securing aid. “The issue, if the opposition wins, is going to be the alliance’s stability — given that it was only formed to oust the incumbent,” Mike Davies, Middle East and Africa analyst at Eurasia Group, said.

Malawi is the second-fastest growing economy in the world and has managed to bring down inflation from 30% to single digits last year. But political upheaval has often overshadowed economic gains, making western donors uneasy and diverting attention away from pressing problems such as poverty and HIV/AIDS. Bingu wa Mutharika

A record 220 women are running in Malawi’s presidential and parliamentary polls on Tuesday, representing about 20% of all candidates for the 193 seats. Women are also at the top of the ticket for the first time: Loveness Gondwe is Malawi’s first female presidential candidate, incumbent President wa Mutharika has tapped foreign minister Joyce Banda as his running mate.

The outgoing Parliament included 27 female lawmakers, but the ministry of women and child development has launched a donor-backed scheme to encourage more female candidates with the goal of women winning half the seats, a plan they call the 50:50 campaign.

“Women in Malawi … have been given very little room to participate in decision-making positions,” Maxwell Matewere, a leader of the campaign is quoted saying today.

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