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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 May, 2004, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Muluzi faces moving on
By Raphael Tenthani
BBC, Malawi

Bakili Muluzi
Muluzi (right) is facing up to letting go of the Presidency
During his 10 years as President of Malawi, Bakili Muluzi has been in sharp contrast to his predecessor, the late Kamuzu Hastings Banda - cutting ribbons at schools; cracking jokes at rallies; and even shedding a tear or two at funerals.

It has been noted that this is the opposite approach to Banda, who rarely left his hill-top palace in Blantyre.

"As your president, I have to be with you to appreciate your daily problems and needs," Muluzi has often told crowds.

But critics have seen his roadshows as a sign of insecurity.

"It seems Muluzi has never been sure that he is president," Brown Mpinganjira, his one-time confidante turned opponent, told BBC's Focus On Africa magazine.

"The guy has been campaigning throughout his two terms."

'He should have stepped down'

Others feel Muluzi's time in office will be remembered for its lost opportunities.

"When the administration took power in 1994 after 30 years of oppression, there was a lot of goodwill towards it," argued political analyst Edge Kanyongolo.

"However, the administration did not take the opportunities at the time to right the wrongs of the Banda administration."

Bakili Muluzi
Being president is not enjoyable. You don't sleep
Bakili Muluzi
Kanyongolo qualified his criticism by noting that Muluzi did take positive steps during his first five-year term, setting up the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Law Commission and the Ombudsman's Office.

"He should have stepped down after his first term. It was an opportunity for him to go out as a statesman," Kanyongolo added.

Malawi's credibility among international donors plummeted during Muluzi's second term when the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the United States and the European Union withheld nearly $100 million in budgetary aid, citing poor economic policies and corruption as the reasons.

The Danish ambassador to Malawi, Orla Bakdal, was summoned by the government for "questioning about undiplomatic statements" after Denmark's outspoken criticism on corruption in 2001; the Danish mission subsequently closed.

Muluzi was defiant, telling the donors: "We will rather remain poor."

During his second term Muluzi has also faced accusations of trying to become a "life president" like Banda. His UDF MPs tabled a constitutional amendment bill in parliament to abolish term limits for the presidency. After that bill was narrowly defeated, another one suggesting a three-term limit was proposed.

However, then attorney general Henry Phoya was forced to withdraw the bill after strong opposition from the public.

Muluzi denied that he had anything to do with the proposed amendment.

"If I can tell you the truth, being president is not enjoyable. You don't sleep," he said.

Accusations

A split within the party developed after Muluzi nominated economist Bingu wa Mutharika, seen by other party heavyweights as an outsider, as its new presidential candidate - former agriculture minister Aleke Banda and UDF founding member Harry Thomson broke away to join opposition ranks.

Bingu wa Mutharika
Bingu wa Mutharika is to succeed Muluzi
Muluzi says that after stepping down as president, he intends to concentrate on his business empire, which has expanded while he has occupied State House.

But his departure as president does not necessarily mean that his political career is over.

He is the UDF's largest donor and its national chairman. The party created this powerful position in November last year when it was clear Muluzi could not extend his term.

This could give Muluzi power over the top job, if wa Mutharika becomes president. In Zambia, former president Chiluba tried a similar strategy, holding on to the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy's (MMD) leadership after his chosen candidate Levy Mwanawasa was elected president.

Like wa Mutharika, Mwanawasa was not seen as a political heavyweight. However, Chiluba's strategy backfired, as Mwanawasa went out of his way to demonstrate he was independent-minded.

Mr Kanyongolo said he did not rule out the possibility of a similar situation developing in Malawi, Zambia's eastern neighbour. "It seems that whatever happens there, replays itself here," he said.

Raphael Tenthani reports for the BBC from Malawi.


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