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Malawi’s Mutharika worse than Mugabe

Former Malawi President Bakili Muluzi said President Bingu wa Mutharika was likely to become a worse dictator than Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Muluzi said Mutharika’s dictatorial tendencies were evidenced by the limits on freedom of expression, a one-sided anti-corruption drive that attacked only opposition figures, a stacked electoral commission, and the monopolisation by government of public media.

The conduct of the police was biased. Several of his rallies had been broken up or stopped before they started.

Muluzi said Mutharika had attempted to bribe traditional authorities to bar opposition parties from their areas and prevent opposition rallies.

Comparing Mutharika to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Muluzi said that at least Mugabe passed laws enabling his actions. Mutharika disregarded laws altogether.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 08LILONGWE573, MALAWI: MULUZI EXPLAINS WHY HE MUST COME BACK

If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs

Reference ID

Created

Classification

Origin

08LILONGWE573

2008-09-26 09:47

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Lilongwe

VZCZCXRO2405

RR RUEHDU RUEHMR RUEHRN

DE RUEHLG #0573/01 2700947

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

R 260947Z SEP 08

FM AMEMBASSY LILONGWE

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0020

INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE

RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LILONGWE 000573

 

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR AF/S – E. PELLETREAU

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/23/2018

TAGS: PGOV KDEM MI

SUBJECT: MALAWI: MULUZI EXPLAINS WHY HE MUST COME BACK

 

REF: A. LILONGWE 531

B. LILONGWE 513

C. LILONGWE 307

D. LILONGWE 252

E. LILONGWE 56

 

LILONGWE 00000573 001.2 OF 002

 

 

Classified By: Charge d’Affaires Kevin Sullivan for Reason 1.4 (d)

 

1. (C) Summary: In a September 4 discussion with the Charge

d’Affaires, former president Bakili Muluzi admitted he

selected Mutharika as a successor over many senior UDF

officials, nearly splitting his own party. Muluzi defended

the selection based on Mutharika’s economic reform

experience, but said the people could no longer stand the

backward steps on the road to democracy that Mutharika has

taken. Muluzi called Mutharika a dictator who used

intimidation, didn’t allow free expression, and had no

respect for the rule of law. He outlined several claims of

corruption in the current government as well. Muluzi

complained that foreign donors had been some of his biggest

critics, but their current silence was viewed as a sign of

tacit approval of Mutharika’s actions. While Muluzi’s claims

obviously have a political motive, he rightly points out that

Mutharika’s own record on rule of law and corruption is not

without flaws. End Summary.

 

MULUZI: MUTHARIKA A STEP BACKWARD FOR DEMOCRACY

——————————————— —-

 

2. (C) On September 4, the CDA and poloff called on former

president and current United Democratic Front (UDF)

presidential candidate Bakili Muluzi, who was joined by

former UDF National Secretary Harry Thomson and UDF Director

of Research Humphrey Mvula. Muluzi told the CDA it was “the

people” who were demanding that he return to run against

Mutharika in 2009. He stated that the UDF fought long and

hard for democracy, and the party would not let it slide

backwards. Mvula explained that the UDF had consolidated

democracy during Muluzi’s decade in office and the UDF had

felt in 2004 that it was time to marry democracy to economic

transformation. Muluzi defended his selection of former

political outsider Bingu wa Mutharika over several

high-ranking UDF members based on the former’s economic

qualifications. He admitted the decision came close to

splintering the party, but said these problems were in the

past. However, Muluzi acknowledged his inability to see

Mutharika’s own ambition in 2004 continued to threaten the

party. Muluzi reiterated that Malawians saw him as the only

one who could rectify the deteriorationg in democracy that

Mutharika had brought about.

 

A DICTATOR IN THE MAKING

————————

 

3. (C) Muluzi enumerated what he saw as Mutharika’s

dictatorial tendencies, citing limits on freedom of

expression, a one-sided anti-corruption drive that attacked

only opposition figures, a stacked electoral commission, and

the monopolization by government of public media. He said

the conduct of the police was biased, pointing out that

several of his rallies had been broken up or stopped before

they started. He also claimed Mutharika had attempted to

bribe traditional authorities to bar opposition parties from

their areas and prevent opposition rallies. Muluzi,

comparing Mutharika to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, said that at

least Mugabe passed laws enabling his actions, while

Mutharika disregarded laws altogether.

 

4. (C) Mvula supported Muluzi’s claims, stating the police

are now targeting UDF members, investigating and arresting

without warrants. Mvula claimed over 290 such cases existed

against UDF officials, including treason charges against

Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha and Muluzi himself (ref C).

Mvula also warned the CDA that foreign missions should be

careful in their dealings with the Malawi Electoral

Commission (MEC), saying the commissioners were beholden to

Mutharika. He also made the bold claim that the information

systems consultants at the MEC were all brought in from

Zimbabwe by Mutharika specifically to set up a parallel vote

tally center to steal the election. (Comment: Ironically,

Mvula was the purported UDF mastermind behind the claimed

election rigging in 2004 in which many believe Muluzi

engineered Mutharika’s victory. End comment) Mvula had

little confidence the judiciary would help to reign in

Mutharika since the new Chief Justice, who was appointed

without a Parliamentary quorum (ref D), also owed a political

debt to Mutharika.

 

MULUZI: YOU WERE HARDER ON ME…

——————————–

 

LILONGWE 00000573 002.2 OF 002

 

 

 

5. (C) Muluzi and company continued a familiar UDF refrain

that foreign-aid donors were harder on his administration

than they have been on Mutharika. Muluzi pointed out that

when he was in power, diplomatic missions leaned on him to

open up Malawi Broadcasting Corporation to the opposition,

yet now remained silent on the same issue. Muluzi also

questioned donor silence on Mutharika’s recent edict that all

maize must be sold to government parastatal ADMARC (ref B)

after pressuring him to liberalize the sector. Thomson went

further, attacking Mutharika’s highly-touted economic record,

saying that although initially painful, the Muluzi regime

yielded to donor pressure to float the kwacha exchange rate.

This act led to a large devaluation of Malawi’s currency.

Thomson noted that Mutharika had essentially fixed the kwacha

at MK 142 to USD 1 for well over a year without consequence.

Thomson questioned how Malawi was still maintaining

single-digit inflation without government manipulation given

the rapid rise in prices of external commodities.

 

6. (C) Muluzi’s main complaint, however, was the silence from

the diplomatic community on Mutharika’s violations of the

rule of law. He was surprised donors did not comment more

vocally on the lack of local government elections since 2005,

the failure to implement Section 65 of the constitution in

Parliament, and the “illegal” appointment of the electoral

commission and other government officials. Muluzi admitted

that his government also had disputes with the opposition

just like Mutharika, but claimed he always kept an open

dialogue with the opposition to find compromises. He

contended that Mutharika, feeling donor silence equated to

support, had refused to work with the opposition from the

beginning of his administration and remained unwilling to

discuss issues that divide the nation.

 

UDF CLAIMS DPP RIFE WITH CORRUPTION

————————————

 

7. (C) Muluzi, who is the subject of an active corruption

investigation himself (ref A), also asked why donors were

silent on issues of corruption in the DPP. Muluzi cited the

Clerk of Parliament procurement scandal, the bribery case

involving Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati, claims of

embezzlement by Minister of Justice Henry Phoya, and

questionable awards of maize seed, fertilizer, and road

construction contracts as examples of the ongoing corruption.

He said all of these have gone uninvestigated, unpunished,

and unmentioned by donors. UDF party officials also

repeatedly question how Mutharika has gone from living under

his father’s roof to owning at least four commercial farming

enterprises since becoming President without raising any

eyebrows among international partners.

 

IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE

————————

 

8. (C) Comment: Muluzi and his cohorts are poorly positioned

to criticize the current GOM given their own history and

subsequent attempts to play puppet-master to Mutharika.

Muluzi, viewed by many of UDF’s prodigal sons as the only

possible source of financing to confront Mutharika in next

year’s election, has at least superficially recemented

relationships fractured by his annointment of Mutharika. He

remains a charismatic and dynamic personality who commands

public attention, if not widespread support. His repeated

comments that “the people” are demanding his return lack

credibility, and most observers do not believe he has a

realistic chance to prevail in 2009. It is Muluzi’s wealth,

rather than strong support within the UDF, that has limited

internal opposition (ref E). At the same time, Muluzi’s

claims about Mutharika’s corruption, disregard for the rule

of law, and potential for election rigging cannot be totally

disregarded. After all, who better to know the potential

abuses of government than one who practiced them for a decade.

SULLIVAN

(4 VIEWS)

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