|Written by Owei Lakemfa |
Friday, 29 May 2009
MALAWI had been on the boil and its general elections had the
potentials of either increasing or lowering its temperature. These
were not to be ordinary elections. They were elections in which an
angry godfather and immediate past President, Bakili Muluzi, who had
imposed incumbent President Bingu Wa Mutharika, wanted his protégé out
Mutharika, accused his godfather of corruption and had him dragged
to court for allegedly siphoning $10 million from donor countries.
the charges were political, Muluzi had used his control of the ruling
United Democratic Front (UDF) to checkmate the President on a number of
fronts. Using their majority in parliament, UDF legislators accused the
President of crossing carpeting, and attempted to impeach him. Hanging
on to power for four years without the backing of parliament, Mutharika
hoped that the the new elections in which parliamentary votes were also
up for grabs, would give him the needed control of the National
The intense power struggles between the President and
his godfather paralyzed the country. Riots broke out and there were
claims of coup plots to oust the government.
There were also
constitutional matters to settle. Former President Muluzi who had
spent the mandatory two terms in office decided to personally challenge
Mutharika for the presidency. He insisted that after five years out of
office, he was again eligible to contest.
In the Nigerian
context, it is like former President Olusegun Obasanjo who after two
terms in office, imposed President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on the
electorate wanting to run in the 2011 or 2014 presidential election.
By the time the courts on May 16, 2009 ruled that constitutionally,
Muluzi is barred from contesting, it was too late for the UDF to float
a credible candidate. So the former President sanctioned the candidate
of a rival party, John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
support was ironic as the UDF was the same “Liberation” party which
had put an end to the one-party rule of Malawi by the blood-thirsty MCP.
MCP had been founded in August 1959 by Malawian nationalist, Orton
Chirwa. When Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda was released from prison in
1960, Chirwa had out of deference, vacated the party’s presidency for
him. Banda immediately seized the party structures and got himself
elected its life President. Malawi which was known as Nyasaland became
independent on June 6, 1964 and Banda made the MCP the sole party in
the country which he declared a one party state.
To complete his
dictatorship, Banda handpicked and appointed not just members of his
cabinet but also the National Assembly. Banda, a medical doctor, then
proceeded to run one of the most archaic, brutal and uncultured
dictatorships in world history. He empowered local courts to try cases
of witchcraft to which there were no appeals.
He turned on
Jehovah Witnesses and after brutal attacks, thousands of them fled to
neigbouring Zambia and Mozambique. Churches also had to be sanctioned
by government before they could operate.
Orton Chirwa who had
founded the ruling party, left, and established the Malawi Freedom
Movement (MAFREMO). He was arrested along with his wife and sentenced
to death. Only an intensive international campaign saved them from the
hangman. Another opposition party was the Socialist League Of Malawi
(LESOMA) led by Dr Attati Mpakati.
On March 16,1979, a letter
bomb sent to Mpakati in Mozambique where he was on exile, blew off his
hands. An estatic Banda celebrated this dastardly act right on the
National Assembly floor. Four years later Mpakati was assassinated in
Banda and the MCP also repressed press freedom; the
mass media including the radio was directly controlled by Banda. Life
jail was the penalty for any journalist found guilty of “false
Banda as the father of the nation even prescribed
dress code for Malawian women. Most oversea mails were opened and
telephone conversations monitored.
No criticism of President
Banda was allowed and those guilty were imprisoned or deported. His
huge wealth in a largely poor country could not be discussed. He was
also a well known collaborator of the apartheid South African regime.
After he was deposed, Banda was put on trial, and on June 14, 1993, Malawians in a referendum voted for multi-party democracy.
post-dictatorship general elections of May 17, 1994 were won by the UDF
led by Muluzi. The party won 82 of the 177 seats and went into
coalition with the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). Five years later;
the AFORD went into alliance with the MCP against Muluzi who was
In the 2004 elections, John Tembo, perhaps Banda’s
main follower emerged strong winning 27.1 percent of the votes, but was
defeated by UDF’s Mutharika who had 35.9 percent. The latter had to
cobble together a number of opposition parties to form government.
switching of sides by Muluzi to John Tembo is one of the surprises of
history. Tembo was a man feared under Banda’s rule. He was accused of
eliminating his rivals in the party, including then Ministers Dick
Matenje and Andrew Gandama. In a little veiled reference to his past,
Tembo 77, said this month, that the MCP is the party to vote for
because it had the experience to govern the country, arguing: “I belong
to the past, I belong to the present and I belong to the future”.
the electorate did not share his views; with 93 percent of the votes
counted, Tembo had 1.2 million votes and incumbent President Mutharika
2.7 million. Tembo cried foul claiming that opposition poll agents had
been denied access to the vote counting centres. However, his main
backer, Muluzi conceded defeat and congratulated his former protégé.
elections have settled a number of issues, including the control of the
National Assembly which is now firmly in the hands of President
Mutharika and his party.
The Malawian elections in which unlike
Nigeria, the votes counted, has demonstrated that once the electorate
is respected, many, if not most political differences can be settled
based on the overall interests of the people.