Cablegate: Mutharika Calls for Reconciliation and Reform At
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LILONGWE 000451
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM ECON KCOR PINR LY TW RW KE MI
SUBJECT: MUTHARIKA CALLS FOR RECONCILIATION AND REFORM AT
REF: A. LILONGWE 445
B. LILONGWE 439
C. LILONGWE 438
1. (U) Summary: Bingu wa Mutharika was inaugurated as
Malawi's third president on May 24 at a sparsely-attended
ceremony in Blantyre. Calling for reconciliation, reform,
and peace in his inaugural address, he outlined a program to
move Malawi "from poverty to prosperity"; announced his
intentions to institute broad reforms; and indicated his
willingness to work with the opposition. His remarks were in
stark contrast to those of outgoing president Bakili Muluzi
who used the occasion to lambaste the opposition and the
media, and to mischaracterize the assessment of the elections
made by international observer groups. Heads of state from
South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Rwanda were present,
along with delegations from several other countries. End
A Political Rally in the Guise of an Inauguration
2. (U) Less than 24 hours after the announcement of results
of May 20's presidential and parliamentary elections (reftel
c), Bingu wa Mutharika was sworn in as Malawi's third
president, and Cassim Chilumpha assumed the position of first
vice-president. The ceremony at Blantyre's Chichiri Stadium
was poorly attended, and spectators had to be bused in at the
last moment to avoid the embarrassment of empty grandstands.
There were no representives from opposition parties present,
nor were there more than a few individuals representing civil
society. The audience was comprised of government officials,
foreign dignitaries, the diplomatic corps, civil servants,
and a large number of supporters of the ruling United
Democratic Front (UDF).
3. (SBU) The presidents of South Africa, Zimbabwe,
Mozambique, and Rwanda flew in for the day to attend the
inauguration. Delegations representing Taiwan, Libya,
Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia, Kenya, SADC,
and COMESA also attended. The crowd roundly applauded
President Mugabe on his arrival, but saved its loudest cheers
for South African President Mbeki. (Note: Mbeki was clearly
the prize most coveted by the GOM to give legitimacy to the
elections. His participation was in question as late as the
afternoon of May 23 when election results were finally
announced amid protests by opposition parties.)
4. (U) Attendance at the ceremony was affected by the
bitterness of opposition supporters at the conduct of the
elections, and by their disappointment with the results.
When opposition candidate Gwanda Chakuamba preemptorily
announced his "victory" on May 22, most of his supporters
believed he had indeed won. When it transpired that Muluzi's
hand-picked successor had won the election with only 36% of
the votes (with the remaining 64% split among four opposition
candidates), protests became violent in the streets of
Blantyre (reftel b) which also was a factor in the low
turn-out at the inauguration.
5. (U) Though Mutharika concluded with a gracious acceptance
speech outlining an ambitious reform program, the bulk of the
ceremony had the feel of a political rally. Master of
Ceremonies (and Muluzi's Minister of State for Presidential
Affairs) Ken Lipenga politicized the invocation prayers. To
the roars of the partisan crowd, he took thinly-veiled
pot-shots at religious groups (primarily the Catholics,
Presbyterians, and Anglicans) who had opposed the UDF.
Dripping sarcasm, Lipenga thanked clergy for their prayers
for a new president and for fair elections, saying that "the
Almighty has answered that prayer." Hand-picked pro-UDF
clergy members then gave invocations.
6. (SBU) Outgoing president Bakili Muluzi got the crowd to
its feet in his trademark political rally style. He thanked
the people of Malawi for their support over the last ten
years, and then lashed out at the opposition. Muluzi noted
that international observers from various organizations had
come to Malawi, and that all had declared the elections free
and fair. (Note: In fact, not one group has done so, per
reftel a, and the EU issued a press release within hours
disputing Muluzi's statement.) Muluzi also poured scorn on
opposition candidates protesting the results and the
administration of the elections, on international media (and
specifically the BBC) for "breeding unnecessary confusion,"
and emphasized repeatedly that Malawi was "a sovereign state"
and will not take orders from anyone.
Mutharika: "From Poverty to Prosperity"
7. (U) Mutharika completely changed the tone in his
thoughtful and muted address. He called for reconciliation,
peace, and deep reforms, pledging to move Malawi from poverty
to prosperity. He outlined a four-pronged reform package in
the public, private, agricultural, and civil service sectors.
He also acknowledged the need for the GOM to build and
strengthen relations with the donor community -- a clear
reference to problems Malawi recently faced with the IMF
after GOM failure to keep its pledges led to the suspension
8. (U) The new president also called for a reduction in the
size of Malawi's 46-member cabinet, better controls on
parastatals, strict adherence to a national budget, and the
move of the presidency and other executive branch offices
from Blantyre to the capital city of Lilongwe. Notably, he
pledged to stamp out corruption with a "zero tolerance"
policy. He promised independent audits of government
spending, the strengthening of anti-corruption institutions,
and the swift prosecution of offenders "at all levels." To a
suprising round of applause (considering the audience), he
added: "And let me repeat -- at ALL levels!"
9. (SBU) Mutharika said all the right things and impressed
many observers by deviating from the script adhered to by the
rest of the UDF at the ceremony. The fact that his comments
were in such sharp contrast to those of Muluzi and other UDF
heavyweights is a clear indication of the challenge ahead of
him in the coming months. As chairman of the UDF, Muluzi
has made it known he has no intention of fading into the
background. In fact, he plans to continue taking the lead
on "political" matters while Mutharika busies himself
cleaning up the economic mess he inherited. If Mutharika is
able to assert independence from Muluzi, he may be able to
follow through on some of his pledges to put Malawi's house
in order. With no power base of his own and without a
working majority in parliament, however, Mutharika has his
work cut out for him. End Comment.