- Malawi's controversial ex-President Bakili Muluzi at a rally this weekend in Blantyre declared his intention of standing as a presidential candidate in the 2009 polls, hoping the former ruling party United Democratic Front (UDF) would accept him as their official candidate. Mr Muluzi is remembered for his attempt to amend Malawi's constitution to allow him a third presidential term.
"I can understand your wishes to have me as your presidential candidate, but UDF as a party has a constitutional process of electing a leader, and let us follow that process because, I believe in democracy and do not want to impose myself on the people of Malawi. So, if you are asking me whether I will stand? My answer is that if the convention nominates me, yes," Mr Muluzi was quoted as saying at the rally by the independent Malawian newspaper 'Nyasa Times'.
Mr Muluzi, who ruled Malawi during two terms from 1994 to 2004, remains the leader of the UDF and the most outspoken critic of current President Bingu wa Mutharika. Several prominent UDF members in public have urged Mr Muluzi to stand as the party's candidate in the 2009 polls. This would be allowed by Malawi's constitution, which only poses a limit of two "consecutive" terms in the presidency.
There is much controversy surrounding Malawi's second President, who was key in ousting dictator-for-life Hastings Kamuzu Banda in 1994. Elected as a leader of the democracy movement, he soon developed authoritarian tendencies. During his rule, corruption remained so widespread that most donors - who initially had flocked to the impoverished country - started pulling out. Mr Muluzi himself in 2006 was arrested on fraud and corruption charges, but was released on the same day following presidential orders.
Mr Muluzi created fears of a new dictatorship in Malawi when he was trying to amend the constitution to allow for his re-election in 2004. Strong international pressure and massive campaigns by the opposition made the UDF leader to back down. He thus hand-picked Mr Mutharika as his successor to ride the UDF ticket for the state presidency, while sticking to the UDF leadership himself.
President Mutharika - an economist who had worked at the UN and as head of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) - soon started fighting corruption and reforming the economy, annoying many strongmen of the UDF. In a country where personal ties are more important than ideological differences when it comes to choose party affiliation, President Mutharika soon clashed with UDF leader and ex-President Muluzi. Mr Mutharika was left no other option than breaking with the UDF and start his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Since that, Mr Muluzi has speared no efforts to weaken the government of President Mutharika, including launching an impeachment process in parliament. With both the UDF and the DPP - despite their liberalist programmes - being personalist parties, majorities in Malawi's parliament are constantly changing. President Mutharika so far however has been able to maintain the upper hand against Mr Muluzi's followers.
President Mutharika already in October last year stated his intentions to seek re-election in 2009 for a second term in the Malawian presidency. He will be the DPP's official candidate.
Whether he will face ex-President Muluzi as his main challenger in 2009 still remains unclear. First, Mr Muluzi must be elected the UDF's candidate, something analysts hold will not pose a problem for the party leader.
But President Mutharika's followers are already planning for a move that could hinder Mr Muluzi from standing candidate altogether. Within the DPP, there are talks about a possible amendment to the constitution. By simply erasing the word "consecutive" from the paragraph that disallows more than two presidential terms, Mr Muluzi would be ineligible.
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