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Malawi court delays decision on ex-president’s run

Malawi’s Constitutional Court on Friday delayed a decision on a long-running dispute on ex-president Bakili Muluzi’s eligibility to run for president for a third time, ahead of polls next week.

The court postponed the reading of its verdict to Saturday morning, after one of the judges was unable to attend the hearing slated for Friday, lawyers for both sides said.

If Muluzi wins his case, his United Democratic Front (UDF) party says it won’t try to force a delay in Tuesday’s legislative and presidential elections.

But a decision in Muluzi’s favour would heighten the nation’s political rivalries and set the stage for a comeback by the 66-year-old who has tried repeatedly to find a path back to power.

”We want the court to settle the matter once and for all. This will be a landmark ruling,” Humphrey Mvula, a top Muluzi aide, told AFP.

Muluzi, who defeated dictator Kamuzu Banda in the country’s first multi-party vote in 1994, was disqualified in March from running for a third term.

The electoral commission said he had hit his two-term limit after serving from 1994 to 2004, but Muluzi is arguing the limit applies only to consecutive terms.

”I only served for two consecutive terms and I was thereafter succeeded by the incumbent state president. Thus there is no possibility of life presidency,” Muluzi told the court.

Banda had declared himself president for life, and the term limits were introduced to prevent another ruler from making a similar move.

Muluzi has entered an unlikely electoral alliance with the Malawi Congress Party, once the instrument of Banda’s oppressive rule.

He is supporting John Tembo, Banda’s former lieutenant, in his bid to unseat President Bingu wa Mutharika, his hand-picked successor and now estranged protégé who ditched Muluzi to form his own Democratic Progressive Party.

”At all costs Mutharika must go. I am the only one in UDF who can unseat Mutharika,” Muluzi used to brag at rallies.

Muluzi had selected Mutharika as his successor after failing to convince Parliament to amend the Constitution to allow him a third consecutive term.

Mutharika, an economist by training, was an unpopular choice within the party that saw several key figures in the UDF resign in protest.

The UDF had formally named Muluzi as its candidate, when the election commission stopped him from running.

Political analyst Wiseman Chijere Chirwa said Muluzi had disappointed thousands of his supporters by ”clinging to power and closing out everybody” to be the UDF’s presidential candidate.

”He has effectively withdrawn his own party from contesting the presidency. He has locked up all of us from having alternative choices. It’s a huge disappointment,” Chirwa, a political scientist at the University of Malawi, told AFP.

None of the candidates was expected to win a majority in Parliament, leaving Malawi with another weak minority government.

Muluzi has also been slapped with graft charges over the alleged theft of $12-million in aid money during his time in office.

The prosecution was launched by Mutharika, who has initiated a sweeping anti-corruption campaign since coming to power.

Muluzi was charged in February by the Anti-Corruption Bureau with dozens of graft counts. His trial is due to begin later this year. — Sapa-AFP

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