Mutharika sweeps out the old: Malawi's new head of state, President Bingu wa Mutharika, has confounded critics by quickly establishing himself as his own man with a clear agenda for the country's future. Analysis by Neil Ford.

Author:Ford, Neil
Position:Malawi
 
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When President Bingu wa Mutharika took up the reins of power in May, many feared that he would be a mere puppet of former president Bakili Muluzi. The latter had been frustrated in his efforts to seek an unconstitutional third term of office and his support for Mutharika--an outsider to the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF)--seemed to many to be an attempt to retain power behind the scenes.

Mutharika, however, has already persuaded many of his former critics that he intends to bring a new broom into government. Prior to, during and immediately after the presidential elections, Mutharika could have been forgiven for believing that he was friendless in Malawi. The decision to appoint him as the party's presidential candidate led to a string of resignations from the UDF.

Many opposition politicians and religious leaders believed that Muluzi would be pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

Some civil society groups even called for legislation to ban former leaders from exercising their influence over political matters in any way once they have stepped down or been voted out of office. Even after Mutharika had won the presidential poll, doubts over the possible manipulation of electoral results triggered rioting that left at least three people dead.

The UDF won just 49 of the 193 seats on offer in the last legislative election and so Mutharika was forced to work with a range of parties if his term of office was not to be marked by conflict between the legislature and the presidential office.

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However, the new Malawian president does not seem to have much time for party politics and seems intent on implementing his policies at the expense of any political popularity, particularly within his own party. The president's position is complicated by the fact that Muluzi remains head of the UDF.

Muluzi's support for Mutharika certainly eased his passage into office, but the former president may now be regretting his decision. It had been assumed that Mutharika's election victory would guarantee the political futures of many UDF stalwarts. However, the vast majority of Muluzi's ministers have been left out of the new cabinet, while several opposition politicians have been included, such as Chakufwa Chihana, the president of the opposition Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) party, who has been named as agriculture minister.

SLIM-LINE CABINET

An announcement from the presidential office stated that cabinet members had been selected...

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