Malawi

Voting in Malawi got off to a chaotic start this morning due to lack of materials such as the voters’ roll, ballot papers, ink, pens, and ballot boxes.  This resulted in many polling centres opening late.  There have also been reports of rioting, burning of some polling stations and destruction of polling materials by frustrated voters.  Several polling stations had not opened by noon.  The capacity of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to manage the logistics had always been an area of concern.
 
The MEC was frantically printing the final v

You'd think after the last few years of increasingly autocratic government that Malawians would be keenly interested in anything that might help to entrench the rule of law, and secure the independence of the judiciary - so that there are enough checks and balances to prevent the country from ever returning to the bad old days of Bingu.

Malawi's former ruling party - the ironically-named Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) - has a lot to answer for. It should be cravenly apologising for the mess it made of Malawi and working to come up with some decent policies for the elections ahead (or disbanding in shame). Instead, it is trying to drum up support by beating the old drum of homosexuality - hoping that this divisive issue will make Malawians forget the party's past abuses.

A few months ago, Bingu wa Mutharika, called his fellow Malawians 'chickens' for having the audacity to criticise him and complain about the way he was 'governing' them. Well the chickens are certainly coming home to roost now for the craven bunch of apologists and praises-singers (sorry Cabinet members and other senior officials) who backed Bingu's personalisation of the State.

Malawians will be electing a president, law makers and local government leaders on May 20th.  This is the fifth election since the country returned to plural politics in 1994.  One would wonder why it is important for the Open Society Foundations to be concerned about the integrity of elections in Malawi given its minimal geo-political significance compared to countries such as Nigeria, DRC, South Africa, Egypt, etc.  Yet Malawians deserve no less an opportunity to exert popular control on national decision making by exercising real choice to elect their representatives.

You know that a president has lost the plot (and the sub-plot) when he starts naming buildings after himself while still in office - as Malawi's increasingly erratic ruler has just done.

In another huge blow to the credibility of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika and his government, the US has suspended a massive aid package, which would have ploughed US$350 million into the country's barely-existent power sector. It is also a devastating blow to the millions of Malawians who would have benefitted from the extra electricity - and a potentially fatal blow to hopes of sustainable growth and development.

President Joyce Banda has transformed Malawi since she her sudden ascent to power in early April following the death of her increasingly autocratic predecessor, President Bingu wa Mutharika. Having watched from the side-lines as he centralised power, attacked critics, undermined the rule of law and ushered Malawi back towards one-party dictatorship, President Banda has moved swiftly to reverse some of his worst laws and put the country back on the path towards an open and democratic society.

There has been widespread praise for Joyce Banda's decision to slash her own presidential salary by 30 percent - and an equal amount of shock and surprise (particularly, I would guess, from her presidential peers in southern Africa who know an alarming precedent when they see one!). Needless to say, it is almost entirely symbolic since she still has State House and all Malawi's presidential expenses to live off.

What has happened over the last few days in Malawi is remarkable. Indeed, it is almost certainly unprecedented. Not just in Malawi. Or in Africa. But anywhere. After a rising tide of anger at escalating corruption – or more correctly the increasingly brazen looting and plundering of state resources – President Joyce Banda sacked her entire Cabinet. Just like that. All gone. Fired. Dismissed from office.

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