As Bakili Muluzi's two terms as president of Malawi come to an end, the BBC's Raphael Tenthani profiles the five major candidates seeking to replace him in the 20 May general elections.
Bingu wa Mutharika
An early member of the ruling United Democratic Front, the party's candidate to succeed President Bakili Muluzi has nursed ambitions of ruling Malawi since the Banda dictatorship began to unravel in 1993.
President Muluzi has widely campaigned for Mr Mutharika
However, the economist's previous bid for the nation's hot seat was thwarted after a hostile campaign by his own party.
It was only when President Muluzi's attempt to run for a third term was ruled out that he was invited back into the fold.
The out-going president has waged a high-profile campaign on behalf of the 70-year-old, who 10 years ago was labelled a failure and a fraud.
Some analyst say Mr Muluzi decision to support an outsider was a bid to guarantee his own safety after the election.
If so, he may have succeeded as Mr wa Mutharika says he would want to maintain good ties the soon-to-be former president.
"I want to show the world how the relationship between the incumbent presidents and their predecessors should be."
Gwanda Chakuamba, the 69-year-old opposition front-runner, has the support of powerful religious leaders and is standing as a joint candidate for a coalition of seven opposition parties.
Mr Chakuamba has a reputation for violent outbursts
He has a reputation for violent outbursts and has spent most of his adult life either on the political platform or in prison.
"If I was a young man, there could have been blood in this country," he said after losing the election to President Muluzi in 1999.
He claimed he was robbed of victory after polling half a million fewer votes than his opponent.
While a senior minister in 1982, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison for trying to assassinate former leader Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
Although found with a pistol, the political gladiator has protested his innocence.
"When I went into prison, I was so bitter that if I had a gun I would have shot everyone," he said.
He was released after 12 years when Banda was under intense international pressure to improve his human rights record.
The white-haired presidential hopeful claims age and religion have mellowed him.
While enjoying strong support from his native south, Mr Chakuamba is also expected to poll well in the north.
Brown James Mpinganjira
The former British-trained journalist and current leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was once President Muluzi's right-hand man.
He has since turned into the president's nemesis.
Mpinganjira used to be a force in the UDF
Mr Mpinganjira was sacked as a powerful senior minister in 2000, ostensibly over allegations of corruption.
But the various charges levelled against the 55-year-old have never stuck.
Mr Mpinganjira claims he left the UDF because of President Muluzi's failed bid to run for a third term, and the issue has become a focus point of his campaign.
Although the president would be at pains to deny it, BJ, as he is known, was the architect of the ruling United Democratic Front's winning formula.
And while he was demonised for creating the now-notorious militant UDF Young Democrats, it still enjoys the government's support four years after his departure.
Diminutive in size but forceful in manner, Mr Mpinganjira has managed to transform the NDA from a rag-tag pressure group into a considerable political force.
As the youngest candidate, he is the only one out of the five hopefuls who could run again in 2009.
Whether he wins or not, as a southerner he is sure to make a dent in the region's UDF stronghold.
Justin Chimera Malewezi
The current vice-president and candidate for the opposition People's Progressive Movement (PPM) been a part of Malawian politics since the days of President-for-Life Banda.
He quit the ruling United Democratic Front early this year after President Bakili Muluzi anointed little-known economist Bingu wa Mutharika as the party's official candidate.
Vice President Malewezi wants to move up a grade
A former science teacher who studied at Columbia University in the US, he entered politics in the 1970s and rose rapidly through the ranks to become Banda's cabinet secretary.
He was dismissed after suggesting Malawi embrace political reform.
After a spell as a political consultant, in the early 1990s he joined an underground group of former Banda proteges, who went on to form the ruling UDF.
Mr Malewezi has criticised the government's slow pace of reform and pledged to lead a fully independent government.
But observers believe that his young party will have a hard time convincing voters that he can beat the other heavyweight candidates.
John Zenus Ungapake Tembo
At 72, John Tembo is the oldest of the five politicians vying for the presidency.
The MCP leader commands fear and respect in equal measures
The president of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) commands respect and hatred in almost equal share, as his name is synonymous with the excesses of power during the Banda regime.
First elected to the legislative assembly in 1961 - three years before the country gained independence - the man known as JZU remains a somewhat mysterious figure.
Mr Tembo reached Banda's inner circle through a mix of luck and good connections.
For 30 years, he was the power behind the throne, made untouchable by the fact that his niece Cecilia Tamanda Kadzamira was Banda's mistress.
His career nearly nose-dived when his long-time rival Gwanda Chakuamba was appointed head of the MCP.
But he used his used his vast wealth and popularity in the MCP central region stronghold to wage a personal war to dislodge Mr Chakuamba, a southerner.
If Mr Tembo does not make it to Sanjike Palace - the president's official residence - he will at least control the central region.