Sun, 08 Apr 2012 Malawi

Malawi power transition hailed as democracy triumph

Banda was sworn in two days after the death of increasingly controversial president Mutharika.  By Amos Gumulira AFPFileBanda was sworn in two days after the death of increasingly controversial president Mutharika. By Amos Gumulira (AFP/File)

LILONGWE (AFP) - The smooth inauguration of new Malawi President Joyce Banda was hailed Sunday as a triumph of democracy, but local media warned that southern Africa's first woman leader faces high expectations.

"This has helped to entrench and cement a democratic culture in the country and is a fresh breath of air on our African continent, where smooth transitions are rare," said the Sunday Times in an editorial titled "Democracy triumphs in Malawi!"

"Malawi, with a young history of 18 years of democracy, joins African countries such as neighbours Zambia and Senegal in West Africa who have recently had peaceful, orderly and smooth transitions."

The Nation on Sunday said fears of meddling with the constitution to thwart the former vice president taking office had been averted, and praised her for making a good start with calls for unity and a rejection of revenge.

Banda was sworn in Saturday two days after the death of increasingly controversial president Bingu wa Mutharika, who considered her a rival.

"We can now all look back with pride and optimism at what we have achieved as a nation in the last few days and focus on the huge task of healing and rectifying the undeniable mess that our nation finds itself in," it said.

"Without going into specific policy statements, she was already a breath of fresh air after the divisive and confrontational rhetoric that characterised presidential parlance over the last few years," it added.

But the newspaper warned that Malawians had faced previous "false dawns", with Mutharika hailed in his first term but then accused of cracking down on freedoms and sending the economy into a tail-spin in his second.

"The country's previous leaders all started with a lot of promise but the trappings of power corrupted them to such an extent that they forgot the source of their power and became gods who brooked no advice, let alone criticism, regardless of whether it is constructive or not."

Malawians, who lived for three decades under a dictatorship which ended in 1994, had shown that they will express unhappiness when feeling short-changed by political system, it cautioned.

Mutharika had over the last confronted street protests and calls for his resignation, most dramatically in July when demonstrations devolved in riots where police shot 19 people dead.

"Key to her success, among other factors, would be to realise that theirs is a privileged position and that she will need the support of every Malawian to tackle the long list of problems that have beset this nation over the last few years."