Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Politics as usual

It seems remiss of me that I haven't written about Malawi's upcoming elections yet. After all, in most African countries, democracy is a fledgling baby, and elections are so much more exciting and dramatic than the buttoned-down, gossipy, rather prudish campaign seasons we have in the U.S.

Partly, the problem is mine. I don't read the paper that often, and when I do, I tend to get sidetracked by stories of witchcraft and dismemberment. But I decided to do a bit of research after my husband dropped this little bomb a few weeks ago:

"Hey, can you believe that I only just today realized that the Vice President is still under house arrest?"

My friends and I looked at each other with dawning recognition...Ah, yes, we remembered! The VP being arrested all the way back in 2006, for treason, no less! Was he really still sitting around in his house, and still acting as the second in command? Could life really be that bizarre and surreal?

Well, yes, and yes.

You see, Malawian politics are full of backstabbing and treachery, the stuff of thrillers, and it's presented in the news (if it makes it into the press at all) as if nothing were out of the norm. Here's a quick cliff's notes version for you folks out there across the sea:

There are two main contenders for the presidency, which will be decided by a national vote on May 16th. The first is the incumbent president, Bingi wa Mutharika. The second is the previous president (from 1994 to 2004), Bakili Muluzi, who had chosen Bingu as his successor. Upon ascending to office, President Mutharika promptly formed a new political party, "crossed the floor," and broke ties with Muluzi. So Muluzi has made it his personal mission to take his old job back.

And that's not all. Last year, the constitutionality of Muluzi's bid for presidency was questioned (after all, he's already met his two-term limit). Somehow, he seems to have been allowed to run. Then a few weeks ago Muluzi was arrested for corruption. The current administration claims that the sudden arrest, despite the fact that Muluzi could have been arrested any time in the last few years, is not politically motivated. But the timing, just months before the election, is suspect. Ah, the intrigue!

Things are starting to heat up in anticipation of the vote in May. The embassy are reportedly a little tetchy and worried, but no one has any plans to close down or go anywhere. We're all hoping for an honest, peaceful election. I guess I'll just have to keep you posted!


Tina said...

OMG do you live in Rhode Island?????

Anonymous said...

Gwyneth, I love reading your blog... I was thinking of you Mardi Gras party that week and was wishing I could come. It may have been smaller, but you had some of the best people there... Miss you! Cassandra