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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 September, 2004, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Malawi's president rules 'his way'
Raphael Tenthani
BBC correspondent in Blantyre

It is exactly 100 days since the economist-turned-politician Bingu wa Mutharika took over the reins of power in Malawi.
Bingu wa Mutharika
Mr Mutharika was hand-picked by outgoing President Muluzi

President Mutharika was anointed by his predecessor Bakili Muluzi, a choice critics felt was a bid to prolong the former president's reign.

Mr Mutharika has faced stiff resistance on all fronts.

Senior ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) officials protested that outgoing President Bakili Muluzi had chosen Mr Mutharika, a perceived outsider to UDF politics, at their expense. Most of them quit the party in protest to join opposition ranks.

Opposition and civil society leaders felt that as Mr Muluzi was unable to run for a third term himself he had settled for Mr Mutharika, a perceived political lightweight, who he could easily manipulate.

'My way'

But within his first 100 days in office, President Mutharika has proved he is his own man.

President Bakili Muluzi
I don't want people to always be worried about when they are going to be arrested
Former President Bakili Muluzi
Where people thought Mr Mutharika's presidency would be an extension of Mr Muluzi's, the new president has shown a complete departure from his predecessor.

"I like doing things my way," he said in an interview a few days before the election on 20 May 2004.

Where analysts say Mr Muluzi treated corruption with kid gloves, Mr Mutharika has professed "zero tolerance" on corruption.

"I would like to warn all corrupt officials that very soon they will have nowhere to hide," he said.

This has won him the hearts and minds of many who hitherto hated him.

In fact there is a joke doing the rounds in Malawi that those who voted against Mr Mutharika are the ones enjoying his reign, while those who shouted themselves hoarse to ensure his victory are now sulking.

Annoyed

Political analyst Boniface Dulani of the University of Malawi says Mr Mutharika has won over his critics because he is doing exactly what Mr Muluzi was not doing.

John Tembo
He seems to be serious on the issue [corruption] so it's a good start
MCP leader John Tembo
"Mutharika has surprised most people because he was seen as somebody who was going to be led by Muluzi," says Mr Dulani.

In July, President Mutharika ordered the arrest of the UDF chief strategist and Mr Muluzi's close aide, Humphrey Mvula, for alleged corruption to the consternation of party heavyweights.

"Arresting Mvula is arresting the UDF itself," protested Kennedy Makwangwala, the UDF's secretary-general.

Mr Makwangwala accused Mr Mutharika of trying to destabilise the ruling party.

"He should not forget who put him there. We are being treated as if we lost the elections," he said.

Mr Muluzi himself is visibly annoyed at the way Mr Mutharika has been conducting himself lately.

"I don't want people to always be worried about when they are going to be arrested," the former president told party loyalists after state prosecutors said six ministers who serviced in Mr Muluzi's cabinet would face charges of embezzling more than $90m of state funds.

Happy

Even opposition leaders have guardedly sung the praises of the president.

The rural man or woman would like it most if he [Mr Mutharika] began right now to address their problems
Reverend Daniel Gunya
John Tembo, veteran leader of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), says he is happy with the president's first 100 days when it comes to corruption.

"There are signs that he [Mutharika] wants to grapple with the problem of corruption in high places. He seems to be serious on the issue so it's a good start."

Unlikely endorsement for the president is also forthcoming from civil rights and religious leaders, who vehemently campaigned against Mr Mutharika during the election.

One of Mr Mutharika's most bitter critics, the Reverend Daniel Gunya says church leaders campaigned against Mr Mutharika because they did not want Mr Muluzi's legacy to continue.

"Muluzi tolerated corruption and wastefulness. Bingu has proved he is different. Maybe he can be trusted," he said.

But, he warns, ordinary Malawians will measure the president's success on more mundane matters like his ability to deliver drugs to hospitals and fertiliser to farms.

"The rural man or woman in the village would like it most if he began right now to address their problems... and social needs."





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