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Malawi - President Bingu wa Mutharika

Malawi underwent its first transition between democratically elected presidents in May 2004, when the UDF's presidential candidate Bingu wa Mutharika defeated MCP candidate John Tembo and Gwanda Chakuamba, who was backed by a grouping of opposition parties. European Union and Commonwealth observers said although the election passed peacefully, they were concerned about "serious inadequacies" in the poll. The UDF did not win a majority of seats in parliament, as it had done in 1994 and 1999 elections. Through the successful maneuvering of party chairperson and former President Muluzi, the party secured a majority by forming a "government of national unity" with several opposition parties.

When Bingu wu Mutharika was elected president of Malawi in 2004, many believed he would govern as a proxy for Bakili Muluzi, the outgoing president. Muluzi had handpicked Mutharika to succeed him after he failed in his bid to serve a third term. But soon after taking office, President Mutharika launched initiatives to combat corruption in the country. Muluzi was one of those the law enforcement agencies targeted. The actions earned Mutharika accolades from international donors and anger from Muluzi, leading to the president abandoning the ruling United Democratic Front and forming his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP.

President Mutharika left the UDF on February 5, 2005, citing differences with the party leadership, particularly over his anti-corruption campaign. He formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) shortly thereafter, attracting a number of UDF and independent members of parliament (MPs) to his new party.

The discord led to domestic instability during Mutharika’s first term, with parliament often paralyzed and the president under threat of impeachment. Even so, during those years Mutharika introduced measures that saw Malawi move from chronic food insecurity, becoming a food secure country with surpluses. In the wake of the 2008 global recession, economic growth slowed, causing fuel and foreign exchange shortages that added to anger among Malawians.

During President Mutharika’s first term in office (2004–2008), the country achieved a high rate of agricultural production and food security. The President’s initiatives, centred on a programme of agricultural subsidy, benefited approximately 1,700,000 resource poor smallholder farmers. In the 2005/2006 crop season, Malawi achieved a food surplus of more than 500,000 metric tons. During the 2008/2009 planting season, food surpluses topped 1.3 million metric tons.

On March 20, 2009 the Malawi Electoral Commission passed a judgement to bar Bakili Muluzi from running for the presidency for the third time. Muluzi challenged this, but on May 16, only three days before the election, the Constitutional Court ruled that Muluzi could not run again. By that point, Muluzi and the UDF had thrown their support behind the candidacy of John Tembo, the President of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Muluzi announced on December 23, 2009, that he was retiring from active politics and that Friday Jumbe was replacing him as UDF leader.

On May 19, 2009, President Mutharika was reelected to a second 5-year term, defeating MCP candidate Tembo. Former President Muluzi attempted to run as a candidate as well, but was barred by constitutional term limits. Mutharika’s DPP won a majority in parliament, and the number of women in parliament increased from 25 to 40. The May 19 elections were marked by high voter turnout, and international and domestic observers agreed that the elections were generally free and fair.

In November 2009 President Bingu Wa Mutharika warned that he will not hesitate to take action against former President Bakili Muluzi if Muluzi continues to take what Mutharika calls a swipe at him. President Mutharika blames the former president for being behind the failed impeachment proceedings against him. Mutharika said he began having problems with the former president when Muluzi tried to influence who gets into his cabinet.

President Mutharika’s press secretary, Chikumbutso Mtumodzi said 01 November 2009 “Muluzi wanted President Mutharika to make available to him a presidential convoy. A convoy, which is the same like that of the sitting president. He wanted to rule with a remote control. That is why President Mutharika made it clear that there can only be one president at a time”.

Approximately half of the country’s subsistence farmers received vouchers which provided discounts on maize seed and fertiliser. To sustain the program, the Malawi Government allocated 11 percent of its budget for 2010/2011 to agriculture, continuing a rare record of commitment on this scale in Africa. The agricultural policy was widely regarded as successful but expensive, and was curtailed in 2011.

In August 2011, the DPP National Governing Council (NGC) endorsed Peter Mutharika as Presidential candidate for the 2014 elections. This announcement came a few days after the 20 July 2011 protests where nationwide strikes were held against Bingu Mutharika’s regime. Malawians took to the streets in protest and the authorities responded harshly, killing 19 when they opened fire on crowds with live ammunition. The Secretary General, Wakuda Kamanga stated that the decision was made in spite of the protests because the party believed that the “anger would fade”. This endorsement also led to the firing of those that were against the nomination process within the party including first vice-president Joyce Banda and second vice-president Khumbo Kachali.

On April 5, 2012, Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika died at the age of 78 after suffering a heart attack at his home in the capital, Lilongwe. He was reportedly flown to a South African hospital due to power outages in Lilongwe. The media reported “chaotic scenes” after his wife, Callista, and other cabinet members were leaving the hospital. His condition was initially announced as “critical”, and police were deployed throughout the capital with 15 Army officers posted at the Vice President’s residence.

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