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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 May, 2004, 19:37 GMT 20:37 UK
Clergy 'meddling' in Malawi vote
Ruling party candidate, Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika
Clergy have told people not to vote for the UDF candidate
A row has erupted between the ruling party in Malawi and the Church ahead of presidential elections next week.

The government is accusing the clergy of meddling in politics, after some Church leaders reportedly urged people to vote for opposition.

Catholic and Presbyterian leaders in the central region have called on their flocks not to vote for the United Democratic Front's candidate.

The UDF reacted angrily, saying the clergy were supposed to be neutral.


The BBC's Chakuchanya Harawa said relations began to deteriorate when Church leaders facilitated talks between opposition parties aimed at forming an alliance.

But James Tengatenga of the Anglican Church denied they were favouring the opposition, arguing that the clergy would help anyone who asked.

"As a Church, we think it is our responsibility to be involved in everything that involves human life," he said.

The outgoing President, Bakili Muluzi, said: "Don't listen to the Church leaders, they have no right to stand on the pulpit and tell you who to vote for.

"They say they want to show you the light. Are they trying to say that you do not have eyes, that you cannot see?"

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

The ruling party has put forward Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika as his replacement.

Our correspondent says it is not the first time clergymen have played an important role in Malawian politics.

In 1992 Catholic bishops wrote a letter condemning the one-party system of former leader Hastings Banda, which changed the mood in the country and prepared it for multi-party rule.

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