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New president of Malawi takes power under felony cloud

Peter Mutharika

Peter Mutharika

(GIN) — In his second try for elected office, Peter Mutharika captured the winning margin of victory and edged out Malawi’s first woman president, Joyce Banda.

The 74-year-old Mutharika, brother of a former president, was declared the victor last week in a disputed election. But he comes into office under a cloud, accused of attempting a constitutional coup two years ago by hiding the death of his brother, President Bingu wa Mutharika, in order to block Banda, then vice-president, from assuming the presidency.

When President Bingu wa Mutharika suffered a cardiac arrest on April 5, 2012, brother Peter allegedly pushed forward a measure allowing him to become president, overriding the constitution. A secret meeting to swear him in failed, and Banda was elevated to the top job.

As president, Banda undid some of Bingu’s more damaging measures: She opened up political space (resulting in this past election being Malawi’s most fiercely contested) and enticed donors back into the country (40 percent of Malawi’s budget comes from international aid), took a personal pay cut and sold the ex-president’s luxury jet.

She fired the Inspector General of Police, Peter Mukhito, accused of instilling a climate of fear through arbitrary arrests and the shooting of 19 people during anti-government protests in 2011.

Still, Banda appeared to go too far in appeasing the International Monetary Fund, agreeing to austerity measures and painful structural reforms. These came at a high price for the majority of Malawians who now struggle to cope with the continuous rise in the cost of food, especially bread and the staple maize meal.

Incoming President Mutharika said his government would invest in infrastructure and improve food supplies in a country where about half of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

 

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