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Meet the candidates in Malawi’s unsettled presidential race4 minutes read

Chilima, a youthful 46-year-old, quit the ruling DPP last year and set up the UTM to contest the election.

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Malawi goes to the polls on Tuesday in a presidential race that could test President Peter Mutharika’s grip on power. These are the leading contenders amongst the Malawi presidential candidates:

The elderly president

President Peter Mutharika, 78, won the 2014 election – two years after his older brother Bingu Wa Mutharika died after having a heart attack while in office. His term has been dominated by food shortages, power outages and ballooning external debt, which have damaged his popularity, as well as concerns about his health.

Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika arrives for his final elections campaign rally at Mjamba Park in the commercial city of Blantyre, on May 18, 2019, ahead of the Tuesday, May 21, 2019, Tripartite Elections.

A former professor of law at Washington University, Mutharika is a constitutional expert who served as a minister of justice, for education, science and technology, and as minister of foreign affairs. He came to power on a promise to tackle corruption after the “Cashgate” scandal erupted in 2013, revealing massive looting from state coffers by government officials, ruling party figures and businessmen.

But he has also been tainted by graft allegations, and last year a public outcry of over $200,000 that he had allegedly received from a businessman who was under investigation for a multi-million-dollar deal to supply food to the police. As the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Mutharika has a mixed economic record since 2014. Growth has slowed from 5.7 percent to four percent but inflation has fallen sharply from 23 percent to below nine percent, according to IMF figures.

“You can see the developments that I have done across the country with your own eyes. Let the work of my hands bear witness for me,” he said on the campaign trail as he opened a new road.

The rebel deputy

Saulos Chilima was Mutharika’s running mate in 2014 and became vice-president – but he then fell out with his boss. Chilima, a youthful 46-year-old, quit the ruling DPP last year and set up the United Transformation Movement (UTM) to contest the election.

Malawian Vice President and United Transformation Movement presidential candidate Saulos Chilima addresses a crowd of supporters
Malawian Vice President and United Transformation Movement presidential candidate Saulos Chilima addresses a crowd of supporters during the last campaign rally on May 18, 2019, in Lilongwe, ahead of general elections.

A devout Catholic, he has been a bitter critic of alleged corruption, nepotism, and cronyism in the ruling party. Prior to being hand-picked by Mutharika, Chilima was a high-earning senior executive in multinational companies including Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Airtel.

He has run a colourful and energetic youth-targeted campaign on a platform of eradicating poverty, fighting graft and creating employment. But it is uncertain if his new party can make a major impact. His wife Mary made waves ahead of the election, releasing a slick and much-admired rap video extolling her husband’s candidacy.

The opposition leader

Former evangelist Lazarus Chakwera, 64, leads Malawi’s oldest party, the Malawi Congress Party, which is the main opposition party and ruled Malawi from 1964 to 1994 under Hastings Banda’s one-party rule.

Chakwera led the party into the 2014 elections, coming second to Mutharika at the polls and he now hopes to go one better. The Malawi Congress Party has lost all five presidential elections since 1994 but Chakwera has made great efforts to re-energise its base.

Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader and presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera waves to the crowd
Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader and presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera (L) waves to the crowd as he arrives at the last campaign rally on May 18, 2019, in Lilongwe, ahead of general elections.

Prior to becoming the leader of the party, Chakwera was president of the Malawi Assemblies of God from 1989 to 2013. He was born to a subsistence farmer whose two older sons died in infancy. He was named Lazarus after the biblical character who was raised from the dead. In March, Chakwera secured the high-profile support of former president Joyce Banda, formerly of the ruling DPP.

Banda came to power in 2012 following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika, but she fled the country after losing the 2014 election amid graft allegations that have never led to charges. She returned last year.

The young outsider

Atupele Muluzi, 41, is the leader of the United Democratic Front and the son of Bakili Muluzi who governed the country from 1994 until 2004. After his party came fourth in the 2014 elections, Muluzi allied himself with the ruling DPP and is currently health minister.

Atupele Muluzi speaks during a press conference
Malawi’s United Democratic Front (UDF) party President Atupele Muluzi speaks during a press conference

He has drawn large crowds to his rallies, but his alliance with the government may have cost him votes.

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Politics

Court orders rearrest of Lesotho ex-first lady in murder trial

Maesaiah Thabane is suspected of orchestrating the shooting of Lipolelo Thabane, who was gunned down outside her home in the capital Maseru.

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Former Prime Minister of Lesotho, Thomas Thabane (L) and his wife Maesaiah Thabane sit at the Magistrate Court in Maseru, Lesotho, on February 24, 2020. AFP

Lesotho’s Court of Appeal has ordered the rearrest of former first lady Maesaiah Thabane after revoking her bail on murder charges over the killing of her husband’s estranged wife in 2017.

The 42-year-old was charged in February after police quizzed her on the brutal murder of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s wife two days before his inauguration.

She spent one night in jail, after which Lesotho’s High Court freed her on a 1,000 maloti ($57) bail, according to AFP.

“The decision… is set aside and the bail petition is remitted back to the High Court to be determined by a different judge,” Court of Appeal president Kananelo Mosito ruled on Friday.

Police said Maesaiah Thabane would be arrested and handed over to correctional service officials later on Friday.

“As soon as we get the written judgement… we will arrest her,” deputy police commissioner Paseka Mokete told AFP.

Maesaiah Thabane is suspected of orchestrating the shooting of Lipolelo Thabane, who was gunned down outside her home in the capital Maseru.

Police have also charged her for the attempted murder of Lipolelo Thabane’s friend Thato Sibolla, who was wounded at the scene.

Lipolelo and Thomas Thabane, now 81, had been embroiled in bitter divorce proceedings when the 48-year-old was killed.

The former prime minister agreed to step down in January after police linked his mobile number to communication records from the crime scene.

He officially resigned this month, bowing to pressure from his rivals who accused him of hampering investigations into Lipolelo’s death.

Thabane has denied any involvement in the murder.

His wife initially went into hiding after police first called her in to testify in January.

She has not yet been allowed to respond to the charges.

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Politics

Niger passes new wire-tapping law to fight terrorism despite opposition

The opposition decried “the will of those in power to deprive Nigeriens… of all privacy in their communications.”

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Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou

Niger’s parliament has adopted a new legislation authorising wiretapping as a means of curbing “terrorism and transnational criminality”, brushing off an opposition protest walkout.

The new law permits “research of information” which notably may “threaten state security” or “prevent the fight against terrorism and organised transnational crime” in a country large swathes of which are in thrall to jihadist conflict, an AFP report said Friday.

Opposition parties are concerned that the country’s constitution holds that “secrecy of correspondence and of communications is inviolable”.

Under the new law, “obtained proofs can be used in investigations and criminal prosecutions initiated by judicial authorities, “with communications intercepted by “competent technical services” who will target “any person against whom there are serious reasons” to proceed.

Barkai Issouf, minister overseeing relations with institutions, insisted that “this law is not a threat to liberty. It is indispensable and emanates form the government’s wish to secure our people”.

Justice Minister Marou Amadou played down the move, saying: “You feared being listened in on? Well, you were before and you still are — only now it will be organised.”

In a statement, the opposition decried “the will of those in power to deprive Nigeriens… of all privacy in their communications.”

It added “this law will allow surveillance of all Nigeriens, as well as all those who live in Niger under the false pretexts” of maintaining security and fighting terrorism.

Niger has endured repeated unrest in its west near its borders with Mali and Burkina Faso from rival jihadi groups as well as in its southeast from Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa, a breakaway group from Boko Haram.

There have been several recent incursions including a massacre in which 20 people were massacred earlier this month.

In the same immense and unstable region of Tillaberi, which covers 100,000 square kilometres (40,000 square miles) and runs into the three-border area of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, three attacks on the army since December left 174 soldiers dead, according to an official report.

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East Africa Politics News

Court sets Tanzanian opposition leader free despite being guilty for sedition

In a written order setting out conditions for Kabwe’s discharge, Magistrate Huruma Shaidi said Kabwe should commit no seditious offence for a period of one year, and if he did, he would be liable to be sentenced for the offence.

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Zitto Kabwe, local lawmaker and head of ACT Wazalendo party.

A Tanzanian opposition leader found guilty of sedition and incitement on accusations that he falsely said some 100 people were killed in clashes between herders and police in his home region in 2018 was on Friday set free by a Dar es Salaam court.

Zitto Kabwe, a local lawmaker and head of ACT Wazalendo party was set free on condition that he refrain from saying or writing anything that would be considered sedition to the government.

Kabwe, who is member of parliament for Kigoma urban constituency, in western Tanzania, was charged in November 2018 with three counts related to incitement after saying that 100 people were killed in clashes between herders and police in the region, a Reuters report said.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

At the time, the head of police in Kigoma said just two herdsmen and two officers had died during an operation to stop pastoralists keeping livestock illegally on a government-owned ranch.

Huruma Shaidi, principal magistrate of Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s court in Dar es Salaam, said he found Kabwe guilty on all three counts.

In a written order setting out conditions for Kabwe’s discharge, Shaidi said Kabwe should commit no seditious offence for a period of one year, and if he did, he would be liable to be sentenced for the offence.

Kabwe’s defence lawyers said they were going to appeal the verdict.

“Zitto Kabwe is a politician and we are in the elections period, we are going to appeal this ruling to clear him,” Jebra Kambole, Kabwe’s lead counsel, told reporters outside the court.

Kabwe split away from the main opposition CHADEMA movement in 2015 and is now his party’s only lawmaker.

The East African country has been one of the continent’s most stable, but opposition leaders and rights groups have accused the government of cracking down on dissent – an accusation it dismisses.

Tanzania is expected to hold presidential, parliamentary and local government elections in October.

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