Page last updated at 09:38 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 10:38 UK

Q&A: Elections in Malawi

Bingu wa Mutharika (left) and John Tembo (right)
The main contenders were Bingu wa Mutharika (left) and John Tembo (right)

Malawian voters have handed President Bingu wa Mutharika a second term and a healthy parliamentary majority, with a resounding victory in the general election.


Bingu wa Mutharika was handpicked as a candidate for the 2004 polls by his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi, who had been barred from running for a third term.

But less than a year after winning the presidency, Mr Mutharika quit the United Democratic Front (UDF), accusing the party and Mr Muluzi of opposing his high-profile anti-corruption campaign.

He formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which then became the governing party, taking control of parliament without having had to contest elections.

Food security
The economy

The UDF unsuccessfully attempted to have Mr Mutharika impeached for allegedly violating the constitution by unlawfully using public funds to promote the interests of his party.

The president then had his vice-president arrested. His mentor Mr Muluzi was also arrested and charged in 2009 with over 80 counts of corruption.

The political feuding meant that much of Mr Mutharika's first term was mired in parliamentary deadlock, a failed impeachment bid and coup plot claims.


Both presidential and parliamentary candidates are elected through direct and universal suffrage for five-year terms. Victory is achieved by simple majority.

There are 193 seats in the single chamber parliament.

The president is head of both state and government.

The president also has the power to hire and fire ministers and is free to make appointments from outside parliament. However, vice-presidents cannot be fired until they complete their term.

Since the reintroduction of multiparty democracy in 1994, Malawians have tended to vote broadly along regional and tribal lines.


There were 5.9 million voters registered for the elections.

Voters must be Malawian citizens, aged 18 years and above. They should be residents of the constituency they wish to vote in. Malawians living abroad cannot vote.


Both the European Union and the Commonwealth observer groups hailed it as a "peaceful and well-managed voting process".

But they said "some key benchmarks for democratic elections [were] not met" and made it "fall short of international standards".

Former Ghanaian President John Kufuor, leader of the Commonwealth observer team, criticised the belated release of the voter register.

He added: "We are extremely concerned at the conduct of state-owned media in its coverage of these elections," accusing it of bias towards President Mutharika.

The main opposition leader, John Tembo, of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), cried foul and claimed the elections were rigged.

His party also said its agents had been denied access to counting centres in its traditional stronghold of Central Province. But governing party supporters said Mr Tembo was just being a sore loser.


Three political parties dominate Malawian politics: the ruling DPP and two former ruling parties, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the United Democratic Front (UDF).

There were seven presidential candidates and 1,151 candidates for the 193 parliamentary seats.

The main contest, however, was between President Mutharika of the governing DPP and John Tembo of the MCP.

The other five other contenders took just three per cent of votes.

One of them, Loveness Gondwe of the National Rainbow Coalition, was Malawi's first woman presidential candidate.

Bingu wa Mutharika

Born in 1934, Mr Mutharika was christened Brightson Webster Ryson Thom by his parents, who were schoolteachers in southern Malawi. He changed his name when he joined Pan-African movements in the 1960s.

Mr Mutharika holds a PhD in development economics from the Pacific Western University in the US.

He served as deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi and then as minister of economic planning and development before running for the presidency in 2004.

He promised to continue infrastructure programmes and the empowerment of women and to improve health, education, agriculture, the economy and other activities that would attract donor confidence and aid.

John Tembo

It was the second time John Tembo ran for the presidency. He came second in the 2004 election, winning 27% of the vote. Mr Tembo is president of the official opposition MCP. He was born in September 1932 in the central district of Dedza.

He had close links to the late totalitarian president-for-life, Kamuzu Banda, who ruled a one-party state for three decades.

Mr Tembo was tried for the murder in 1983 of four prominent Malawi politicians but was acquitted.

He was backed in the 2009 polls by Mr Banda's successor, Mr Muluzi, as head of a MCP-UDF coalition.


Food security

Donor countries had warned in 2005 that the power struggle between the president and his predecessor was diverting the government's attention from pressing problems such as food shortages.

Analysts say the ruling party's pledge to continue with its popular programme of selling subsidised fertiliser to poor farmers proved a key vote-winner.

The opposition MCP-UDF coalition had promised to go even further and offer a universal fertiliser subsidy.

Most Malawians rely on subsistence farming, but the country is prone to natural disasters, putting it in constant need of thousands of tonnes of food aid.

The economy

Malawi is one of the world's poorest countries and is heavily dependent on funds from Western donors.

The DPP said it wanted to continue wooing foreign investment, arguing it was the best way to revamp the economy.

In April a subsidiary of the Australian uranium mining giant Paladin Energy Ltd started production at its $200m Kayelekera uranium mine in northern Malawi.

Government officials said uranium exports were poised to become the country's top source of income.

The MCP-UDF alliance advocated local investment projects in key social sectors such as agriculture, education, entrepreneurship and heath.


The ruling DPP pledged to continue fighting corruption. The MCP-UDF coalition however says the anti-graft effort is being used to persecute the DPP's political opponents.

BBC Monitoringselects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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