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Malawi Ex-President Muluzi Gives Up Comeback Bid, Backs Another Candidate

Former Malawi President Bakili Muluzi is expected officially to give up his comeback bid for the presidency after deciding to throw his support behind another opposition leader in the May 19 general election. Muluzi, who was recently barred by the electoral commission from running in future campaigns, said he would be supporting the Malawi Congress Party's presidential candidate John Tembo in the election. The former president continues to insist he is not disqualified to stand for elections, even though the constitution bars him from coming back to power after serving two consecutive terms in office from 1994 to 2004.

Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) spokesman Humphrey Mvula told VOA that the new alliance will ensure victory for the opposition in the general election.

"What you've heard as information is correct that Dr. Bakili Muluzi and the United Democratic Front (UDF) will not be fielding a presidential candidate, but will be supporting the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate. The United Democratic Front and the Malawi Congress Party have entered into a coalition agreement to fight the election on 19 May as one unit. And in that context, two developments arise. Dr. Muluzi will not stand. The reason being, the (electoral) commission uncharacteristically decided to bar Dr. Muluzi," Mvula said.

The general election was expected to be hotly contested between incumbent President Mutharika and former President Muluzi until the electoral commission disbarred the former leader from participation, citing Muluzi's two consecutive terms as Malawi's leader from 1994 to 2004. But the former president maintains that he is not constitutionally barred to represent the UDF in the election, and has filed a case in court challenging the decision of the electoral commission to bar him from this and future elections. Humphrey Mvula says the former president is launching a legal challenge to the electoral body's decision to bar him from participating in the May 19 election and future elections.

"We've taken the matter to court, but the matter has been going at a snail's pace. And it was also thought as a party that it would be unfair that a party would be disenfranchised in its entirety and not be able to vote for a presidential candidate, bearing in mind that this is a party that won the previous three elections including the one in 2004," he said.

Mvula said the unity of purpose of the two opposition parties is formidable enough to win the upcoming general election handsomely.

"The next characteristic development is the fact that the UDF and the MCP are going to go into what one can describe as a coalition government, where we are pulling all our support towards Honorable John Tembo," Mvula said.

He sharply denied that the two opposing ideologies would cause potential friction in the coalition.

"No, I think that will serve the people of Malawi best. We are a democratic party, and we are in a democratic multiparty dispensation, and Malawians chose popular democracy. MDC and UDF have minor differences; ideologically probably one would be looking at MCP more of a conservative one the other side whereas we are social liberal democrats," he said.

Mvula said the coalition would have the panacea to resolve the numerous challenges the ordinary Malawian faces.

"The two married together would bring out possibly the best solutions in Malawi for the people of Malawi in that we believe that every development must have a human face," Mvula said.

He said the former president should not be blamed for the decision of the electoral body to disbar him from this and future elections, adding that the constitution does not support the electoral commission's assertion.

"My take is, with due respect to the fact that the matter is in court, Dr. Muluzi was not his own candidate. He was a candidate identified and elected and subsequently voted into the presidential candidacy by the faithful of UDF drawn across the country. The UDF was very clear and still remains clear until proven otherwise that the decision to field Dr. Muluzi had not run contrary to the aspirations of the constitution. We still contend, and we still do so fervently and passionately, we don't see a law that actually bars the former president from bouncing back into power," he said.

Some political analysts say the former president's decision to throw his weight behind opposition leader John Tembo could pose a significant challenge to incumbent President Bingu Wa Mutharika. Based on a controversial poll ahead of the election, President Mutharika is expected to win the contest with at least 60 percent of the vote. But the opposition dismissed the poll as fraught with errors and skewed in favor of President Mutharika.