Malawi: Tensions high as ex-president arrested
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||27 February 2009|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Malawi: Tensions high as ex-president arrested, 27 February 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49ab9a14c.html [accessed 21 October 2014]|
LILONGWE, 27 February 2009 (IRIN) - The arrest of Malawi's ex-president, Bakili Muluzi, by the country's Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) for allegedly stealing US$11 million in donor money has turned up the political heat ahead of general elections due in May.
Muluzi, who wants to run in the 19 May poll, was charged on 87 counts for allegedly diverting money meant for development projects into his private account. He has denied any wrongdoing and is currently on bail.
His United Democratic Front (UDF) party accused the government of launching a witch hunt, and thousands of his supporters gathered outside the ACB offices, and later at the Magistrate's court in Blantyre, Malawi's commercial capital, on 26 February amid a heavy police presence.
Muluzi's lawyer, Fahad Assani, said the ex-president was essentially facing four charges. "There are 87 charges which they have pressed on Muluzi, which can be divided into four. One charge is multiplied four times, using different language."
Muluzi is being quizzed on how he constructed a plush office complex in Blantyre, and how he could afford 106 vehicles and UDF campaign material for the 2004 general election, which ushered President Bingu wa Mutharika into office. Muluzi has insisted that he took a bank loan to cover the purchases.
AU delegation appeals for calm
Political tensions are already high in Malawi, with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) arguing that Muluzi's comeback bid is destabilising the country. Senior UDF official Humphrey Mvula said the DPP "want to keep [Muluzi] busy with cases - it's a typical way of running away from competition."
Muluzi, who ruled Malawi for 10 years before picking Mutharika from political obscurity to succeed him, is awaiting a court ruling on whether he can contest the election. The constitution bars a president from seeking more than two consecutive terms, but is silent on whether Muluzi's five-year break allows him to stand.
Former Ghanaian president John Kufuor and former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano were recently in the country as part of an African Union mission to help ease the political tensions.
At a press conference in the capital, Lilongwe, this week, Chissano said: "President Bingu wa Mutharika assured the high-level delegation that he was open to dialogue with all stakeholders to avert violence and to uphold peace and democracy in Malawi. On his part, the former president, Bakili Muluzi, agreed to participate in such dialogue."
With the country waiting to hear from the electoral authorities as to the list of presidential nominees, Chissano added: "The high-level delegation calls upon all political parties and the public to remain calm and peaceful until such a decision is made by the Malawi Electoral Commission."
Mutharika came to power on the UDF's ticket but dumped the party in 2005 and formed the DPP. Since then, he and Muluzi have been bitter rivals in a country with a history of political violence.