BLANTYRE, Malawi — Peter Mutharika called on Malawians to rescue their country from “collapse” as he was sworn in as president yesterday, after ousting his arch-rival Joyce Banda in disputed polls.
Mutharika, the brother of president Bingu wa Mutharika who died in office in 2012, appealed to the other 11 presidential candidates to “join me in rebuilding the country” as he took the oath of office with Vice — President Saulos Chilima.
The results of the fraught May 20 election were announced late on Friday after the high court blocked a last-ditch demand for a recount.
“It’s obvious we are facing serious problems in this country. All of us together, let us build the country which is almost on the verge of collapse,” Mutharika said in his first speech since being declared president late on Friday.
The 74-year-old law professor takes the leadership of Malawi facing treason charges for attempting to conceal his brother’s death in office two years ago, in an alleged bid to prevent Banda — then vice-president — from assuming power.
As a former foreign minister and his brother’s right-hand man, he was also a leading member of an administration widely blamed for bringing the small southern African country’s economy to its knees through years of mismanagement.
At the time of Bingu wa Mutharika’s death in 2012, stores were often empty, service stations dry and, shunned by international donors, Malawi had largely depleted its currency reserves.
Mutharika told journalists at a news conference at his residence in a leafy suburb of Nyambadwe in Blantyre that he would continue maintaining relationships with Western donors while courting “new friends” such as China and Brazil. “It’s inevitable, we will continue our relationship with donors who provide 40 per cent of our recurrent budget,” he said.
Banda yesterday congratulated Mutharika for his “victory in a closely contested election,” according to a statement.
The electoral commission said Mutharika took 36.4 per cent of the votes cast against Banda’s 20.2 per cent, with the commission chief Maxon Mbendera declaring Mutharika “president-elect”.
The results showed Banda beaten into third place by Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), who garnered 27.8 per cent.
The tense elections saw sporadic outbreaks of violence among supporters of the different parties. One person was killed when police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters demanding a recount in the southeastern town of Mangochi. Party spokeswoman Jessie Kabwila said the MCP would challenge the results in court.
Banda, who became Malawi’s first female president in 2012, had sought to have the polls declared “null and void” on the grounds of “serious irregularities”.
There is speculation that Mutharika could now turn the tables and charge her with corruption over a $30 million graft scandal dubbed “Cashgate”. — AFP