Bakili Muluzi, the former Malawian head of state, is faces an uphill battle in his bid to become the country’s president for the third time in next year’s presidential election.
Muluzi, who is running as the candidate for the opposition United Democratic Front, has been barred by the government from campaigning for next year’s presidential election and is facing charges of treason for allegedly plotting to have Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika removed from office by May this year.
A number of senior members of his party face the same charges.
On his return last week from a trip to the UK, Muluzi’s planned welcoming rally in Lilongwe was blocked by police.
He was then forcibly put on an army plane to Blantyre and charged the following day with treason. He was released on bail, but has to inform the police whenever he is travelling out of Blantyre.
Last week police used tear gas to disperse his supporters; the government claims that Muluzi is “trying to cause problems for the country”.
Ralph Kasambara, a lawyer for Muluzi, argues that there was no reason why Muluzi should report to police and have his passport taken away, “because he cannot run away as some people have said. He was in the UK and [has now come] back.”
Political analysts in Malawi say that the government attention will only raise Muluzi’s profile further.
“What government has done is not really good, because now Muluzi is getting more sympathy from the people. The more they arrest him, the more the people sympathise with him,” said Happy Kayuni, University of Malawi political lecturer.
Others, however, say that Muluzi should be the last person to accuse the government of repressing the political opposition, as he refused to allow opposition parties to campaign freely when he was in office.
In 2004, ahead of the presidential elections, Muluzi said that opposition parties would not be allowed to demonstrate against his bid for a third term.
“I will not allow anyone to demonstrate or hold a political rally in the name of democracy,” he declared at the time.
“We cannot say that during Muluzi’s era things were okay politically. His young UDF democrats used to beat opposition members at their rallies and blocked the rallies,” said Kayuni.
Meanwhile, Mutharika says he is not afraid to run against Muluzi in the 2009 general elections, “because what I have done for the people of this country is enough to elect me as president for the second time”.
Muluzi has vowed to defy the ban on campaigning.
However, it is not clear whether he would be eligible to stand as the Constitution bans a president from serving more than two consecutive terms. Muluzi served two terms as president, from 1994 to 2004.
The political differences between Muluzi and Mutharika started in 2004 soon after Mutharika dumped the UDF, the party on whose ticket he won the presidential election. Mutharika later formed his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party.