Malawi president faces tough election against deputy, former pastor

Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika is in for a stern test at next week’s elections, challenged by a field of candidates including his deputy – a onetime ally turned rival – and a former pastor who accuses him of corruption.

Former law professor Mutharika, 78, is trying to secure a second five-year presidential term on Tuesday, when Malawians will also vote for a new parliament and local government councillors.

The southern African country is heavily dependent on foreign aid and has suffered frequent severe droughts in the last decade that have affected hundreds of thousands of people. Mutharika is credited with improving infrastructure and lowering inflation.

But he was dealt a blow last year when Deputy President Saulos Chilima quit the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to form a new party, the United Transformation Movement (UTM).

Chilima, a 46-year-old former telecoms executive, has gambled his political future on winning the presidency, said Boniface Dulani from the University of Malawi.

“If Chilima loses that might signal the end of his political career; win, and he gets a platform to see if the successes he had in the private sector can be replicated in government,” Dulani said.

A major issue at these elections will be corruption, following a series of high-profile scandals in the past decade.

Chilima and Lazarus Chakwera, a former pastor who is also running for president and who leads the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), say Mutharika has nurtured graft.

Mutharika denies that. He says local media reports he benefited from a $4 million contract to supply food to the police force are a ploy to smear him before the elections.

“People don’t eat politics. But they need development, which is what I have delivered and will continue to do,” Mutharika said at the opening of a new road on Wednesday.

But Chilima says it’s time for a change.

Chakwera, 64, says he would rid government of cronyism if elected. “Our first objective is to rid the public service of corruption,” he said at a recent rally.

Mutharika is likely to draw support from rural areas, where his government’s agricultural subsidies and electrification programmes tend to win votes, analysts say. –Reuters

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