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18.05.2009 Feature Article

Malawian General Elections: Who to Watch and What to Expect!

Malawian General Elections: Who to Watch and What to Expect!Malawian General Elections: Who to Watch and What to Expect!
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By Alhassan Atta-Quayson

In December 2008, nearly five months ago, West African country Ghana went to the polls and came clean, at least in the eyes of International Observers. Just few weeks ago, in the month of April, continental giant South Africa also went to the polls and came clean. On Tuesday, May 19 2009, the Republic of Malawi will be going to the polls. What are the stakes in these upcoming polls? Who are making the news? And what must be expected from the polls?

The Southern African country has a population of 14.3 million (UN, 2008) and gross national income per capita of US$250 (World Bank, 2007). The Republic of Malawi is largely agrarian, landlocked, and ranks among the world's most densely populated and least developed countries. For over 30 years, Malawi was under the dictatorship of late Kamuzu Banda, founder of Malawi Congress Party (MCP), who wanted to rule the country for life. Thanks to popular pressure in the mid-1990s.

Since her independence from Britain in 1964, the country has held just about three general elections, beside the referendum that ended the Banda-rule in 1993, and four national assembly elections under the single-party regime. The first multiparty elections brought Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF), to power in 1994, and was remained until 2004 when the current President, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika was elected. It is important to note that barely a year after Mr. Mutharika was elected, on the ticket of the ruling UDF, he crossed the carpet and formed a new grouping, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Though the impending presidential elections will be contested for by seven candidates, two of them stand quite high, and are therefore the key personalities to watch. They are the ruling President, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika of DPP and Mr. John Tembo of MCP/UDF coalition. Former President Bakili Muluzi of UDF fought very hard to vie for the third time but was disallowed by the two-term limit clause. He has therefore joined forces with Mr. Tembo, a veteran politician with a long experience in government and the private sector. Dr. Mutharika, it is believed, also has the support of another important and fascinating political figure in Malawi, Mr. Gwanda Chakuamba. Mr. Chakuamba, leader and founder of Republican Party (RP), obtained about 26 per cent of valid votes cast in the 2004 general elections, on the ticket of Mgwirizano Coalition, which he has since left.

Expectations are that both personalities can win, though Mr. John Tembo seems to have an urge over the current President. Nonetheless, the president also has behind him the entire state apparatus in his campaign for re-election. Already it is being alleged, by the opposition coalition (MCP/UDF) and a local think tank (Institute for Policy Interaction) that the elections will not likely be free and fair as claimed by the Electoral Commission. This is even stretched to the extent that the government is alleged to be conniving with the Electoral Commission to rig the election, amidst fierce opposition by the MCP/UDF coalition

As the elections draw nearer and nearer, certain statements made by politicians must be carefully analyzed. In this regard, the President's claim that Western donors are meddling in this month's elections must be carefully scrutinized. Technocrat Mutharika said “Donors are running the Malawi electoral commission. They have deployed a large army of expatriates at the commission. Actually they are interfering in the internal affairs of Malawi". Analysts have argued that such comments underlines difficulties the President must be encountering in having his way. More importantly, such statements are important steps in rejecting the outcome of the polls should the opposition be elected.

The other development that has characterized the electioneering season in the country is the alleged assassination plots of some politicians, including former President Dr. Bakili Muluzi and coalition candidate Mr. John Tembo. These allegations, though vehemently denied by the government, are important to note as the days go by. Last minutes are dangerous.

Giving the foregoing, the good people of Malawi and neighbouring countries are entreated to be very vigilant of the ensuing elections. Malawians must continuously keep in mind, and act accordingly, of the many developmental problems facing the country. All politicians, particularly the President and Mr. John Tembo, are being advised to follow the steps of the likes of South Africa and Ghana. All independent and constitutional bodies, especially the security services, must work hard to uphold the credibility of the elections. May the country come out from he elections more united, and peaceful.

Alhassan Atta-Quayson is a graduate of the University of Ghana and a columnist of

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