Malawi vote gives president control of Parliament

President Bingu wa Mutharika’s party won a decisive parliamentary majority, according to final election results released on Monday that could mean an end to bickering that had paralysed the house.

The Malawi Electoral Commission said Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party won 114 of Parliament’s 193 seats, or 59%.

The United Democratic Front won just 17 seats. It appears voters held United Democratic Front chief Bakili Muluzi responsible for a bitter political feud that has kept leaders from addressing pressing problems in this impoverished southern African country.

Not only was Muluzi’s party soundly beaten by Mutharika’s, but it slipped from main opposition to third place in Parliament, behind the Malawi Congress Party with 26 seats. Congress is the party of Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the late dictator who had run Malawi until the first multiparty polls here in 1994.

Mutharika ”has a clear majority and will no longer struggle in Parliament business,” said political analyst Rafq Hajat.

Mutharika was re-elected in a presidential vote held alongside the May 19 parliamentary elections. Mutharika was sworn in on Friday, though the Malawi Congress Party’s John Tembo, who had been backed in the presidential race by Muluzi, is contesting the results.

Muluzi, barred from running himself by term limits, accepted Mutharika’s victory.

Tembo filed suit in the high court on Monday claiming the elections were rigged. Foreign observers said Tuesday’s poll was generally well run, and it was unlikely Tembo’s challenge would have much political impact.

Mutharika had been Muluzi’s protege, but the two fell out after Mutharika was elected in 2004 and accused Muluzi of trying to block an anti-corruption drive.

Muluzi and several other leaders in his party are facing fraud and corruption charges involving millions of dollars.

Political bickering had led to a five-month delay in passing the 2007/08 budget. The United Democratic Front had blocked debate on the budget, saying that lawmakers who defected to join Mutharika Democratic Progressive Party should first be expelled. After a series of court injunctions, threats to dissolve the legislature and daily street demonstrations, it was agreed to debate the budget first and look at the political issues later.

The Mutharika-Muluzi feud also had led to rioting, a failed impeachment bid, and accusations of coup and assassination plots.

Despite the political impasse, Malawi has enjoyed relative peace and stability in the past decade. Mutharika, a 75-year-old former World Bank official, is credited with bringing economic gains to the nation of 12-million. His anti-corruption drive also won praise from Malawians and foreign observers.

At his swearing-in Friday, Mutharika appealed to his rivals to work with him in a nation beset by poverty and where Aids has left an estimated one million children missing one or both parents. — Sapa-AP

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