Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika on Tuesday fired the head of the country’s military and his deputy, just hours after rejecting crucial bills passed by parliament to facilitate new elections.
A statement from the presidency said popular army commander General Vincent Nundwe, alongside his deputy Clement Namangale, had been replaced by Major General Andrew Lapken Namathanga and Davies Mtachi.
The development came on the back of Mutharika’s decision at the weekend to dissolve the whole of his Cabinet.
He also removed party regional governors on Tuesday. Analysts have interpreted these moves as Mutharika shoring up his position ahead of elections in May.
Nundwe will be assigned to other duties in the public service, the statement said.
These elections are a re-run after the annulment of last year’s presidential vote by the country’s Constitutional Court, because of widespread irregularities.
The removal of the army chiefs caught observers by surprise, but came in a period of intense pressure for Mutharika and the ruling party, who have been struggling to contain ongoing protests against the government.
“It suggests to me that the ruling party is identifying possible ‘weak links’ in the chain and is moving to address each in turn ahead of the ‘fresh’ election.
“If that is true, we should look out for greater pressure being placed on the Chief Justice, the media and the judges hearing the appeal before the Supreme Court,” said Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy at Birmingham University.
The military has consistently resisted calls by the ruling party to end the protests using force.
In the May vote, Mutharika will face an uphill battle to retain power. He is facing an opposition movement that has been rejuvenated by the court ruling, and has united against him in an electoral alliance.