31 May 2014

Malawi: Peter Mutharika Sworn in As Malawi's New President

Former foreign minister Peter Mutharika has been sworn in as the new president of Malawi after disputed elections. He takes office under the shadow of a treason charge.

The 74-year-old Mutharika on Saturday took the oath of office to become Malawi's new president, a day after the election committee declared him the winner of the contested May 20 elections.

Vice President Saulos Chilima was sworn into office in the same ceremony before a chief justice.

Mutharika, the brother of former President Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in office in 2012, urged the 11 other candidates from the poll to "join me in rebuilding the country."

Electoral commission chief Maxon Mbendera declared Mutharika "president-elect" on Friday, despite attempts by ex-President Joyce Banda to have the vote annulled because of what she called "irregularities." Her move was deemed invalid by the high court minutes before the commission made its announcement.

Banda, who came in a distant third in the elections behind another opposition leader, Lazarus Chakwera, has since conceded defeat.

In a statement, she congratulated Mutharika for his "victory in a closely contested election" and said she was "leaving office a happy person."

She said she wanted "to urge all Malawians to support the newly elected President Professor Mutharika and his government as they take on this foundation of progress and endeavor to develop Malawi even further."

Treason charges

Banda came to power in 2012 as the country's first female president following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika. At the time, Peter Mutharika, a law professor, was accused of treason for allegedly attempting to conceal his brother's death in a bid to prevent Banda - then vice-president - from assuming office.

The trial is still pending, but analysts say it is likely that the case will be set aside owing to the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by Malawi's presidents as long as they are in office.

Banda's government was itself dogged by a $30-million (22-million-euro) graft scandal dubbed "Cashgate," and there is some speculation that Mutharika may pay tit for tat by having her charged in his turn.

The presidential election was overshadowed by controversy from the outset, with some polling stations opening ten hours late and some recording more votes than there were registered voters.

One person was killed in post-election violence.

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