By Jack McBrams and Michelle Gumede, AFP/Blantyre
Malawian President Peter Mutharika yesterday made a final plea to voters, promising to develop the country “beyond recognition” if he wins next week’s election.
Mutharika, who came to power in 2014, could face a tough battle to hold onto office in Tuesday’s election, after his presidency was damaged by corruption allegations.
“We have set Malawi on the path of progress. The opposition have nothing to criticise me on,” he told several thousand cheering supporters in Blantyre at his final campaign rally.
“My priorities for this country are development and building skills. When you give me a chance for another five years, I will develop this country beyond recognition.
“I can assure you that we will get to the level of Singapore and Malaysia.”
Mutharika, who said he was taking only 40% of his salary to help the economy, pledged to construct more schools and factories in Malawi — a largely agricultural country that is one of the poorest in the world.
“We will continue to build the economy so that we eradicate poverty,” he said.
Mutharika also pledged to provide secure accommodation for albino people, who have been killed or mutilated for their body parts in the belief that they contain magical powers. In a surge of attacks, 163 cases have been reported since November 2014, including 22 murders, Amnesty International said this month.
Mutharika, 78, who has denied rumours of ill health, was greeted by supporters chanting “We all knew our father was alive!”
“He should win again so that we continue living in peace and he should continue with his mission,” said businesswoman Flora Malewa, 25, at the rally.
The main rivals to Mutharika and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera of the long-established Malawi Congress Party (MCP), and Saulos Chilima of the new United Transformation Movement (UTM).
“Our message has been so well received, it is electric everywhere,” Chakwera told his final rally near Lilongwe.
“We can unite this country that has been paralysed and we can all prosper together — but we must end corruption and we must follow the rule of law.
“Nothing less than victory — we are winning, nobody is going to mess with this vote.”
Chakwera has made an alliance with former president Joyce Banda, who fled the country for four years after losing the 2014 election amid graft allegations that have never led to charges.
Fellow opposition candidate Chilima is an unknown factor in the election after serving as Mutharika’s vice president despite falling out with him and leaving the ruling party to set up the UTM last year.
The party has targeted the massive youth vote and Chilima, 46, told his final rally: “Most of our economic sector is in the hands of a few — this is what led to the birth of the UTM. On Tuesday we are beginning a new journey to become a free nation.”
Campaigning ended yesterday evening ahead of the vote on Tuesday, which is for president, parliament and local councillors.
Under Malawi’s “winner takes all” system, Mutharika won in 2014 election with just 36% of the vote.
This year’s winner could secure the presidency with even less.
The country gained independence from Britain in 1964, and was then ruled by Hastings Banda as a one-party state until the first multi-party elections in 1994.
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