Mutharika wins Malawi polls

May 22, 2009 12:00 am

, BLANTYRE, May 22 – President Bingu wa Mutharika on Friday won a resounding second term in Malawi’s presidential election amid accusations from international observers of using state media and resources to tilt the polls in his favour.

The incumbent leader swept a 66 percent victory with 2,730,630 ballots over his nearest rival John Tembo who secured 31 percent of the polls with 1,270,057 votes.

"I declare Bingu wa Mutharika, president of the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party), winner of 2009 presidential elections," the commission’s chairperson Anastacia Msosa announced.

Observers from the European Union and the Commonwealth on Thursday said the 75-year-old economist had benefited from a bias in state media while also pointing to problems with the voters’ roll.

"Reporting and coverage of the president and Democratic Progressive Party campaign by state radio was unashamedly partisan," said former Ghanaian president John Kufuor, who heads the Commonwealth observer group.

This created a "markedly unlevel playing field, tarnishing the otherwise democratic character of the campaign," he said.

Luisa Morgantini, head of the 83-member EU team, said the misuse of state resources extended beyond the government-controlled media.

"The use of state resources for campaign purposes was overt during the whole of the campaign period," she said, reading out the observers’ statement.

"There was a blurring of the boundaries between the presidential office and campaigning that included the use of state-owned vehicles, public media, police and security services," she added.

The main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) has already claimed fraud in the counting process and launched a formal complaint with the electoral commission.

The election was also marred by the arrest of journalists working for a pro-opposition radio station that broadcast a programme regarded as demeaning to the state.

Joy Radio – owned by Mutharika’s estranged mentor, former president Bakili Muluzi – was raided hours before polls opened and was shut down on Tuesday evening.

Muluzi had handpicked Mutharika as his successor in the 2004 elections, when he hit his constitutional two-term limit.

But after taking power, Mutharika broke away to form the DPP, taking fewer than one third of the 193 parliamentarians with him.

Angered by the betrayal and keen to find a way back to power himself, Muluzi backed Tembo in the polls, creating an alliance between the two biggest opposition parties.

Fifteen years after the country’s first multi-party polls, Mutharika sought to shore up his popularity with an agricultural subsidy scheme to help subsistence farmers, who feed 80 percent of the population.

Memories are still fresh from a 2005 famine that hit five million of the nation’s 13 million people.

Half the population lives on less than a dollar a day, leaving them at constant risk of hunger simply if the rains turn bad.

One in 10 adults is HIV-positive, and AIDS has orphaned more than half a million children, while driving life expectancy down to 43 years.

Mutharika, who once headed the regional COMESA trade bloc, has brought three years of bumper crops — aided by plentiful rains — and has brought an average of seven percent economic growth during that period.

He has also launched an anti-corruption drive that has caught Muluzi up in dozens of charges accusing the former president of embezzling 12 million dollars in donor funds.

The electoral commission declared the presidential poll results after 93 percent of polling stations were in. The remaining three percent went to smaller parties.

"The commission has not received the results for 670,090 voters and they decided that this will not change the outcome of the election," said Msosa.


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