The presidential poll held in the small Southern African nation of Malawi on May 20th nearly plunged the country into a serious constitutional crisis, something similar to what the death two years ago of former president Bingu wa Mutharika did. The poll began rather smoothly until counting indicated that the incumbent president, Mrs. Joyce Banda and her Malawi Peoples Party (MPP) were losing to the late president’s brother and former foreign minister, Peter Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Mrs. Banda, midway into the vote tally, ordered a halt to the process, citing “rampant irregularities”. Thankfully, and even swiftly, on the same day, a high court issued an injunction stopping her from interfering in the electoral process. That enabled the Malawi Electoral Commission to declared the winner. It was Mutharika’s DPP which won with 36.45% of the vote. Mrs. Banda’s MPP came a distant third with 20.2%, behind Mr. Lazarus Chakwera of the Democratic Congress Party (DCP) who polled 27.8% and finished as the first runner-up.
Malawi, like most African nations, has demonstrated that a simple and routine electoral process can be ambushed or subverted; this accounts for the critical democratic deficit on the African continent. Had the Malawi high court not decisively and promptly intervened to restore the integrity of the vote, maybe the country would have descended into anarchy. Banda’s attempt to discredit and then halt the poll is not an isolated incidence of electoral malfeasance in Africa though. We commend the country’s electoral umpire and judiciary for standing up to Mrs. Banda and salvaging the electoral process. It was not the country’s first experience with politicians who are not comfortable with democracy.
Two years ago, when Banda’s predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika died in office, a simple succession procedure spelt out by the Constitution, which says in the event of death, the president should be succeeded by the vice-president, was almost torpedoed by a cabal of the late president’s kitchen cabinet led by his brother, Peter, who has now won the presidency. He, along with others kept secret the death of the president, a ploy to make himself president. However, he was arrested and charged with treason, a charge that now is mostly likely to be dropped because as president he enjoys immunity from prosecution.
Now that he is president, a position he wanted to grab through the backdoor two years ago, Mr. Mutharika is advised to reconcile the whole nation, polarized by the poll. He has said he regrets the absence of his predecessor at his inauguration, but Mrs. Banda countered that she was not invited, and that her aides were hastily withdrawn. Such tantrums are not good for the democratic health of Malawi. Reconciliation should be honest. The former president should avail her successor the benefit of her experience for the good of the country.
Over 40% of Malawi’s budget comes from aid from traditional donors including the UK, the EU and the United States. At his inauguration, President Mutharika said, “We’ll continue with our traditional relationships but we are now also looking for new friends in emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India, South Africa and Russia. Malawai needs all the “new friends” it can find to end the stranglehold of aid dependency.