The Hand of Peace: Mutharika’s call for unity

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Newly elected Malawian President Peter Mutharika has extended an invitation to his opponents to set aside their political differences and actively participate in the process of nation-building after a bruising election campaign marred by isolated cases of violence and allegations of vote manipulation.

True to his unity call, Mutharika appointed Atupele Muluzi, the leader of the opposition United Democratic Front and son of former president Bakili Muluzi, as Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining.

In a widely received inauguration speech in early June, Mutharika said Malawi needed “collective participation in development”.

“That is why I have extended a hand of reconciliation to my colleagues who contested for this highest office,” he said during the inauguration ceremony held at the Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre and attended by several other southern African leaders.

The invitation to other Malawian political leaders came in the wake of tension that accompanied elections held in the southern African country on May 20.

Mutharika and the former opposition Democratic Progressive Party won the Malawian general elections that produced a hung parliament and saw an unprecedented number of independent candidates elected to the House of Assembly.

Mutharika, young brother to late Malawian leader Bingu wa Mutharika, won the May 20 presidential election, with nearly two million votes, or 36.4 percent of the vote.

Results announced by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) showed then President Joyce Banda beaten into third place by Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) who garnered 27.8 percent.

Banda could only manage 20 percent of the valid ballots.

Malawi uses the first-past-the-post system where the candidate with the largest share of votes is declared winner of the presidential race.

The outcome of the presidential results was mired in controversy amid allegations of rigging and confusion over how the MEC should have proceeded in the wake of conflicting court rulings on vote counting.

The results of the vote were announced on May 30, minutes after the High Court refused a last-ditch attempt to block their release and allow time for a recount.

Banda, came to power in 2012 following the death of Wa Mutharika alleged rigging and sought to annul the elections. 

She called for fresh polls within 90 days during which she said she would not participate.

She sought to have the polls declared “null and void” on the grounds of “serious irregularities”.

The nullification and call for fresh elections were declared illegal by the High Court in Blantyre.

She later conceded defeat, urging the country to throw its weight behind Mutharika following the announcement of the official results.

She said she wanted “to urge all Malawians to support the newly elected President Professor Mutharika and his government as they take on this foundation of progress and endeavour to develop Malawi even further”.

A professor of law, Mutharika becomes the fifth president of Malawi. Others before him are the country’s first post-independence leader Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda.

Prior to joining politics in 2009 when he was elected Member of Parliament for Thyolo East, Mutharika had spent most of his life as a law professor, having taught at various institutions of higher learning such as Makerere University in Uganda, University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Washington University in the United States.

Widowed in 1990, Mutharika has two daughters, Monique and Moyenda.

The presidential elections were held concurrently with polls to choose parliamentarians and local councillors.

Results announced by MEC chairperson, Maxon Mbendera, showed that the DPP led by Mutharika won 50 seats or 26 percent of the 193-member House of Assembly.

MCP, the country’s first post-independence ruling party, got 48 seats, followed by the People’s Party led by Banda that could only manage 26 seats during the hotly contested elections held on May 20.

Other parties that will be represented in parliament are the United Democratic Front led by Atupele Muluzi that won 14 seats, as well as Chipani Cha Pfuko and Alliance for Democracy that both got one seat each.

Parliamentary elections in one constituency were postponed following the death of one of the candidates for Blantyre North constituency.

The outcome of the parliamentary poll means that Malawi will have a hung parliament as no party has an overall majority in the House of Assembly.

Independent MPs make up 27 percent of the House, meaning that any party wishing to push through legislation would have to get the support of these legislators.

In terms of gender parity, only 30 of the 192 MPs are women, which translates to 15.6 percent of the total. This is significantly lower than the 26 percent representation of women achieved during the last elections in 2009. The newly elected MPs were sworn-in on June 9 at Parliament Building in Lilongwe during a ceremony to be presided over by Chief Justice Anastasia Msosa.

In local government elections held concurrently with the presidential and parliamentary polls, the DPP emerged victorious after winning in 165 of the 457 wards contested.

The MCP managed to win 131 wards, followed by the PP with 65 and UDF with 57 seats. Five by-elections are expected in five wards.

Unlike in the parliamentary elections, independent candidates were victorious in only 35 wards.

Of the 457 wards where the elections took place, only 56 of the winning candidates were women, accounting for just 12 percent representation.

Mutharika was sworn-in at the Blantyre High Court a day after the announcement of the results and inaugurated on June 2 during a ceremony attended by several Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders.

He takes over from Banda as SADC chairperson until the next summit scheduled for Zimbabwe in August. – Sardc

June 2014
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