Page last updated at 09:59 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 10:59 UK

John Tembo: Second time unlucky

John Tembo

By Raphael Tenthani
BBC News, Blantyre

Veteran Malawian politician John Zenus Ungapake Tembo hoped 2009 would finally be the year he would win the keys to State House, after 15 years in opposition.

As presidential candidate for the Malawi Congress Party, he was banking on his long experience in government and the private sector during the MCP's uninterrupted 30 years under the late dictator, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, and a loyal vote from his stronghold - the tobacco heartland of Central region - to make it to State House.

I cannot say I am rich but I thank God that at least I can afford a glass of wine every day and at least a glass of whisky every week
John Tembo

But his rival, incumbent President Bingu wa Mutharika, swept to a 66% victory, while Mr Tembo could only muster 31% of the vote, according to the electoral commission.

Mr Tembo refused to accept defeat and claimed the elections had been rigged.

His party alleged fraud in the counting process and launched a formal complaint with the electoral commission.

At 77, Mr Tembo was the oldest among the seven Malawians who vied for the southern African country's top job.

But his MCP was destined to come second best for the fourth election in a row, according to electoral commission results.

Old timer

JZU, as Mr Tembo is popularly known, is Malawi's longest-serving politician, having been Dr Banda's right-hand man during all the three decades he was at the helm.

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The MCP fought Britain's 70-year colonial rule and governed Malawi from 1964 to 1994, when Dr Banda's former protege, Bakili Muluzi, won power during the country's first multi-party elections.

Mr Tembo obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in political philosophy at Roma University in Lesotho 51 years ago.

He then taught at various secondary schools back home before entering politics as an MP for the Central Highland district of Dedza in the 1960s.

He was appointed finance minister in 1966 and later became the longest-serving central bank chief after being governor for the Reserve Bank of Malawi for a record 13 years.

In between he chaired many private and public institutions, including Malawi's largest conglomerate, Press Corporation Limited, as well as Blantyre Print and Packaging, the University of Malawi, the New Building Society and several banks.

During the 1990s, he became the all-powerful Treasurer General of the Malawi Congress Party.

Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda
Hastings Banda made John Tembo his right-hand man

He later became minister of state in the president's office during the twilight of the MCP stranglehold on power when exiled Malawian politicians started agitating for political change around 1992.

Following the death of Dr Banda in 1997, Mr Tembo wrestled power from his life-long political rival Gwanda Chakuamba, who had been anointed MCP leader by the late dictator.

Mr Tembo - who is married to Ruth and has three grown-up children - became leader of opposition in parliament in 2004.

His chances of winning power were boosted when the second opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) of former President Bakili Muluzi endorsed him as a joint MCP/UDF coalition presidential candidate.

But his hopes of victory were swept away beneath a DPP landslide.

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