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Malawi Politics: Presidential Election Results and History

June 12, 2009

Today we continue with the ongoing survey of Malawi, its history, geography, culture and topography in advance of my trip there next week. Though the country is in the news as a result of a pop star and her adoption of a Malawian girl, I thought that today would be an opportune time to take a look at a more consequential part of Malawi: it’s politics. The recently held elections in Malawi resulted in a victory for the Democratic Progressive Party and its leader, Bingu wa Mutharika. The full story, from the BBC:

Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika has been sworn in for a second five-year term.
During an inauguration ceremony attended by several regional leaders, Mr Mutharika said fighting corruption would continue to be a top priority.
Earlier Malawi’s election commission said he had won more than 2.7m votes, with nearest rival John Tembo taking nearly 1.3m.

The structure of Presidential elections and the politics of Malawi are described below:

Under the 1995 constitution, the president, who is both chief of state and head of the government, is chosen through universal direct suffrage every 5 years. Malawi has a vice president who is elected with the president. The president has the option of appointing a second vice president, who must be from a different party. The members of the presidentially appointed cabinet can be drawn from either within or outside of the legislature. Bakili Muluzi was president from 21 May 1994 to May 2004, having won reelection in 2000 with 51.4% of the vote to leading challenger Gwandaguluwe Chakuamba’s 44.3% for the MCP-AFORD party. In the 2004 election Bingu wa Mutharika defeated Chakuamba by a ten point margin.

The history of Malawi since independence is dominated by the long-term Prime Minister, Dr. Hastings Banda, who was elected as President of the Nyasaland African Congress (the pre-independence name of Malawi) even prior to independence from Britain and then won election as Prime Minister of the newly independent state of Malawi in 1964:

In 1961, Banda’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP) gained the majority in the Legislative Counsel and Banda was elected prime minister in 1963. The Federation was dissolved in 1963, and on July 6, 1964, Nyasaland became independent from British rule and renamed itself Malawi. Under a new constitution, Malawi became a single-party state under MCP rule and Banda declared himself president-for-life in 1970. For almost 30 years, Banda ruled firmly, suppressing opposition to his party and ensuring that he had no personal opposition.[16] Despite his political severity, however, Malawi’s economy while Banda was president was often cited as an example of how a poor, landlocked, heavily populated, mineral-poor country could achieve progress in both agriculture and industrial development.[17] While in office, and using his control of the country, Banda constructed a business empire that eventually produced one-third of the country’s GDP and employed 10% of the wage-earning workforce.[18]
Under pressure for increased political freedom, Banda agreed to a referendum in 1993, where the populace voted for a multiparty democracy. Following the elections, in late 1993, a presidential council was formed, the life presidency was abolished and a new constitution was put into place, effectively ending the MCP’s rule.[16] In 1994 the first multi-party elections were held in Malawi, and Bakili Muluzi became president. Muluzi remained president until 2004, when Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika was elected. Although the political environment is described as “challenging”, as of 2008, the multi-party system still exists in Malawi.[7] Multiparty parliamentary and presidential elections will be held for the fourth time in Malawi on May 19, 2009.[19]

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