Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Malawi is interesting, people!

I realize that African politics often is not covered well in the U.S. But it is really surprising that the current drama surrounding the Malawian election is not getting more press attention. The election pits incumbent President Joyce Banda against Peter Mutharika and Lazarus Chakwera (but the Banda-Mutharika contest is where all the action is). Mutharika is the brother of the prior president Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in office two years ago. After Bingu died, there was briefly talk that Peter (who was serving as Foreign Minister at the time) might seize power even though Banda, as Vice President, was next in line for the Presidency under the Malawian constitution. That didn't end up happening. Peter did not seize power and Banda was sworn in as President. Banda supporters apparently believe that Peter was going to do it, but didn't only because the Banda secured the support of the military. Mutharika supporters claim that the coup talk was just talk and there was no serious plot to seize power illegally, although the Mutharika camp did make an unsuccessful attempt to get a court order preventing Banda from becoming president.

In the election this week, the initial returns showed Peter Mutharika with a clear lead with 30% of the ballots counted. At that point, President Banda announced that the government would stop counting ballots, claiming that the vote had too many irregularities and was illegitimate. To diffuse any claims that she was using the irregularities as a pretext to stay in power, Banda proposed holding a new presidential election in which she would not run. As this Guardian piece points out, Banda seems more concerned about keeping Peter Mutharika from winning than with retaining the presidency for herself. But the attempt to stop her opponent from winning has sullied her reputation internationally.

Plus, Banda's ploy to stop the count didn't work. The High Court rejected Banda's attempt to stop the court, although it also rejected Mutharika's attempts to block the electoral commission's recount of votes in certain contested polling stations. Meanwhile, the Malawian military is staying out of it. So it looks like the vote, including the recount, will continue. The outcome is not definite yet, but it looks like Peter Mutharika may be the next President of Malawi.

So much drama! Why aren't more people paying attention to this stuff? Seriously, if this were happening on any other continent, wouldn't it be getting a lot more attention?

On a personal note, I know Peter Mutharika. He was my professor in law school and I even went out to lunch with him once and talked about Malawian politics. A mutual friend of ours is in touch with him and she tells me that he still remembers me. Which means that if the Muth does come out on top, I will actually know a head of state!