of Africa (Johannesburg)
new president sworn in amid clashes between opposition and
By Challis McDonough
May 24, 2004
Malawi's new president, Bingu wa Mutharika, has been sworn
in, despite a second day of clashes between security forces
and opposition supporters over his disputed election victory.
The unrest has killed at least one person and possibly several
more, and there are allegations that police used live
ammunition to suppress the demonstrations.
Several African heads of state were present for the
swearing-in of Bingu wa Mutharika, who has become Malawi's
third president. He was the anointed successor of Bakili
Muluzi, who was constitutionally required to step down after
two terms in office.
Unrest broke out in townships around Blantyre on Sunday
after the Malawi Electoral Commission declared Mr. Mutharika
the winner. He took about 35-percent of the votes, while his
two closest challengers won 27-percent and 26-percent.
The man who placed third in the official standings, Gwanda
Chakuamba of the Mgwirizano Coalition, accuses the electoral
commission of fraud and says he should have been declared the
Several political parties, including the Mgwirizano
Coalition, have disputed the results and say they intend to
challenge them in court.
The head of the University of Malawi political science
department, Mustafa Kennedy Hussein, places part of the blame
for the opposition anger on an electoral system that allows
someone to win the presidency with 35-percent of the vote.
"Personally, I think it is something to do with the
electoral system. Because we would be talking about a
different scenario if it was proportional representation. But
now the voting pattern is along the regional lines, and it is
only people who get the majority, even if they beat others by
one vote, they still have to be declared the winner," he
International election observers have given the poll a
mixed evaluation. They say that while voting day was peaceful,
there were serious irregularities in voter registration and a
heavy bias in the state media toward the ruling party, the
United Democratic Front. The European Union also said the
ruling party used state resources in its campaign.
Despite the observers' statements, analysts say the
opposition probably has little chance of overturning the
election in court.
But economists worry that continued unrest and a disputed
poll could hurt Malawi's sagging economy and its standing with
In his inauguration speech, Mr. Mutharika promised to
reform the economy, the government, and the agricultural
sector, to make Malawi, what he called, a hunger-free nation.