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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Battle for Malawi's vote

By Aubrey Sumbuleta
BBC Africa Live, Blantyre

Only 10 years ago, Malawi boasted a vibrant economy manufacturing products such as cooking oil, soap, meat products, textiles and cigarettes.

Bingu wa Mutharika (l) Bakili Muluzi (r)
President Muluzi's successor pledges to revive the economy
But now Malawi imports most of its commodities.

Up to 10 big manufacturing companies have closed down, with the loss of more than 50,000 jobs.

The cost of living has sharply risen with a 50kg bag of maize flour going for nearly 1,000 kwacha ($10) compared to 100 kwacha when President Bakili Muluzi took power.

I would vote for a party's policies rather than personality.
Anganile Mwangobola, Malawi

Nearly six million Malawians go to the polls next Tuesday to elect a successor to President Muluzi as his second five-year term comes to an end.

Democracy

Most Malawians blame the poor performance of the country's economy on the outgoing government of President Muluzi.

The president told a campaign rally for his chosen successor, Bingu wa Mutharika of the United Democratic Front, that over his past 10 years as leader, his main job had been to ensure democracy stays in Malawi.

"Having established democracy in this country, Malawians now need an economist like Bingu wa Mutharika to revamp the economy," said President Muluzi.

Brown Mpinganjira of the opposition NDA
I have already talked to several investors from outside Malawi who are interested to support my government if I am elected
Brown Mpinganjira
Mr Mutharika is the former secretary for the regional economic bloc for south and eastern Africa - the Common Market For Eastern and Southern Africa - Comesa.

The UDF's candidate is up against former powerful minister Brown Mpinganjira who, along with some ministers, quit the ruling party two years ago to form the National Democratic Alliance - NDA.

Mr Mpinganjira says the country needs more investors if the economy is to turn around.

"I have already talked to several investors from outside Malawi who are interested to support my government if I am elected," he recently told a campaign rally.

Court battle

Veteran politician Gwanda Chakuamba is leading a coalition of seven parties under the banner of Mgwirizano, which means unity in the local Chichewa language.

Opposition alliance, Mgwirizano
Malawians want economic improvements
Others in the race include John Tembo representing the former ruling party, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) of the late President Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

Malawi's first vice President Justin Malewezi is the only independent candidate.

As the candidates criss-cross the country soliciting for votes, the election battle is also raging on the airwaves.

The ruling UDF is being accused of monopolising the state owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and Television Malawi.

Campaign slogans for the ruling party are aired every five to ten minutes.

Unable to challenge the UDF's grip on the state media, the opposition has turned to private radio stations.

A section of Malawians have taken the two public broadcasting stations to court for unfair coverage of the election campaigns.

But the ruling may come too late to help the opposition.




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