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Malawi President Mutharika Faces Pressure to Name Running Mate

Malawi President Bingu Wa Mutharika is coming under increasing pressure to name his running mate ahead of this year's general election. Some Malawians have been speculating Mutharika may choose embattled Vice President Cassim Chilumpha to be his running mate after recent warm relations between the two. President Mutharika accused Chilumpha of plotting to assassinate him and overthrow his government, after the vice president refused to join his ruling Democratic People's Party (DPP). But relations between the two have recently gotten better after Chilumpha, who is a national executive member of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), defended government policies, on the campaign for the opposition party ahead of the general election.

Noel Mbowela is a political science professor at Malawi's Chancellor College in Zomba. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that expectations are high about Mutharika's vice presidential pick.

"The people here are too excited, and they really want to know who the running mate is going to be. There has been speculation of course about certain key political figures who could be favored by the president, but coincidentally, they all seem to be coming from the Central Province. And the reason is very clear because the president is coming from the Southern Province, and he is covered as far as that area is concerned. And he can get a lot of votes. But the Central Province being the second populous is now key to the election that we are going to be having because if the president is going to have somebody who is coming from the Central Province, he is also going to be assured of reasonable votes," Mbowela said.

He said some Malawians think Mutharika would gain advantage depending on who he chooses to be his running mate.

"So the speculation has been such that the running mate is going to come from the Central Province and one of them has been the current vice president who was of course sidelined for some time now, but is currently enjoying good relations with President Muthairka," he said.

Mbowela said there has been controversy surrounding accusations leveled against the opposition of plotting to rig the upcoming vote.

"The president indeed was on a tour, and he did mention that he has information pointing to the opposition trying to rig the forthcoming election. Of course, there was no elaboration on the evidence, and people have played the allegation as mere speculation," Mbowela said.

He said the president might have been misinformed about what the situation is about the allegations of vote rigging.

"I will tell you that there is something very interesting that might be linked to this accusation and counter-accusation of rigging. Right now, there is almost a food crisis in the country, whereby in some other areas people are starving. So these people who are not much interested in voting are now trying to sell voter registration certificates so that they can have something to eat. So I think it is such an incident which has been blown out of proportion," he said.

Mbowela said ongoing political developments would render it difficult to envision the general election running smoothly and fair.

"It is very tricky at the moment, and I don't think one would say the election would be free and fair or there would be violence. The picture is not yet very clear. And the reason is that there are so many things which would be unfolding as we get close to the election. One of them is the candidature of the ex-president, who is trying to come back and also contest. Assuming that he is stopped from contesting, his exit might cause some of his followers to be very violent and disrupt the whole election process because they would be very frustrated," Mbowela pointed out.