President Banda registers to vote ahead of her greatest political challenge in 2014

posted in: Africa

Malawi president Joyce Banda


ZOMBA, Malawi – Malawi president Joyce Banda on Wednesday registered as a voter ahead of the 2014 elections in her rural constituency of Domasi in the eastern district of Zomba, some 100 kilometres east of the commercial capital, Blantyre.

“I could have registered in the city (Blantyre) or at Kamuzu Palace (in the capital, Lilongwe), but I chose to come here because this is where I was born,” said the 63-year-old Malawi’s first president.

She will be seeking her own full mandate after assuming power by accident of fate after President Bingu wa Mutharika suddenly died from cardiac arrest complications in his office in the renamed New State House on April 5 last year.

Banda was Mutharika’s Vice-President.

“I urge Malawians to register in their large numbers so that they can exercise their democratic right to vote for a councillor, a Member of Parliament and a president of their choice in May 2014,” Banda told journalists flanked by her husband, retired Chief Justice Richard Banda and her sister Anjimile Ntila-Oponyo and their children.

Banda, Africa’s second female president, faces a tough challenge from main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate, the Rev. Lazarus Chakwera.

Chakwera, 58, an untried and untested new-comer to Malawi’s frontline politics has excited the political landscape in the southern African country with many calling him “game changer” since he is not associated with the corruption and various forms of misrule that taint established politicians.

But the late president Mutharika’s brother, Washington State University professor Peter Mutharika, should also not be dismissed outright.

The 73-year-old academic leads his late brother’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), now in opposition, following the president’s death.

He had a spectacular fall-out with his deputy Banda over succession plans, leading to her expulsion from the DPP.

She went own to found her own People’s Party (PP) which became the de facto ruling party following her constitutional ascendancy to power after her estranged boss’ death.

When she ascended to power in April last year, Banda embraced tough economic policies prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank including a 49 per cent devaluation of the local currency, the kwacha.

Mutharika resisted the devaluation, saying it would hurt the poor since prices of goods and services would shoot through the roof.

Indeed, following the historic devaluation, prices of goods and services almost doubled making Banda’s PP administration unpopular overnight.

Analysts say the younger Mutharika could benefit from this although his brother’s resistance to devalue the kwacha led to most goods – including fuel – disappear.

Although Banda’s move to devalue the currency has largely reversed that, a section of the population may still be nostalgic to the DPP era.

Also putting on a spirited campaign is former president Bakili Muluzi’s son, Atupele Muluzi. At 35 he is banking on the youthful vote, a significant voting bloc in Malawi.

His flamboyant father’s shambolic handling of the economy may work against the youthful legislator but most first-time voters may still have been toddlers when the elder Muluzi was in State House for his politics to bother them.

So Banda’s work is cut out for her to retain the hot seat.