/ 22 May 2009

Malawi president sworn in for second term

Malawi’s President, Bingu wa Mutharika, was sworn in for a second term on Friday after winning re-election on a platform of economic growth and food for the poor, but the opposition said he rigged the vote.

The Electoral Commission declared wa Mutharika the victor early on Friday in a ballot widely viewed as a test for political stability in the Southern African country.

After being sworn in, Wa Mutharika vowed to prioritise food security and to keep up a fight against corruption that won praise from international donors.

”I shall continue to fight corruption because it is evil … it robs the poor and denies them their legitimate right to a decent living,” he told a huge crowd at a stadium in the commercial capital of Blantyre.

Wa Mutharika’s party also won a parliamentary vote, which should ease a stand-off with the opposition that has almost paralysed government and unnerved donors and investors in the poor nation whose economy is one of the world’s fastest growing.

”With Wa Mutharika, we are likely going to see a positive economic performance as he has already demonstrated,” the Economic Association of Malawi (ECAMA) think-tank said. ”Overall, we envisage economic fundamentals remaining strong.”

Wa Mutharika based his campaign on a record of making Malawi a net food exporter and delivering three years of growth above 7% in the country of 13-million, where annual gross domestic product is only $313 per capita.

The Economist Intelligence Unit says Malawi is the world’s second-fastest growing economy.

The incumbent won 2,7-million votes in the presidential poll, with 93% of ballots counted. His closest rival, John Tembo, won 1,2-million.

The president’s Democratic Progressive Party took 91 of 193 parliamentary seats, Tembo’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP) won 25 and the United Democratic Front (UDF), which joined the MCP in an opposition alliance, won 17. Independent candidates took 26.

Vote-rigging allegations
But Tembo cried foul, saying he had evidence Wa Mutharika rigged the vote and would go to court to prove it.

”We have decided to press ahead and challenge the results in court,” Tembo told Reuters, without providing details.

Wa Mutharika was sworn in at a ceremony attended by several Southern African leaders, including Zambian President Rupiah Banda and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

A Commonwealth election monitoring mission said on Thursday Wa Mutharika had exploited state television and radio to gain an unfair advantage but that overall the election was well managed and the opposition should drop its protest.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) noted media coverage bias but said the vote was credible and fair.

Former president and UDF leader Bakili Muluzi, who was excluded from standing himself but had formed an alliance with Tembo, acknowledged Wa Mutharika had won and said he would support the new government.

Muluzi has been an arch-rival of Wa Mutharika and a protracted power struggle between the two almost paralysed Parliament, prompting a failed impeachment bid and allegations of a coup plot that unnerved Western donors. — Reuters