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Freedom House Calls for Peaceful Transition Following Death of Malawi President Mutharika
Freedom House calls for a peaceful and orderly transition of power in Malawi following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika. State media reported on April 5 that the 78-year-old president was hospitalized in the capital city of Lilongwe and then transferred to South Africa for treatment. Although the government has withheld an official announcement, BBC and Reuters cite doctors and cabinet ministers who confirmed the president’s death following cardiac arrest. Under the constitution, Vice President Joyce Banda should assume the presidency until the next elections in 2014.
“The government of Malawi must enact a quick succession in accordance with the constitution, and continue working to ensure that the next elections are free, fair, and, transparent,” said Robert Herman, Vice President for Regional Programs at Freedom House.
Mutharika was elected president of Malawi in 2004 and re-elected in 2009 in a contest that observers described as free and competitive. However, following economic struggles and anti-government protests, Mutharika’s rule became increasingly authoritarian. His Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) dominated the political landscape, including Malawi’s legislature, and stifled any semblance of dissent. Vice President Banda was expelled from the party, but retains her position and has since formed her own party.
A security crackdown on protests last year claimed at least 19 lives and prompted the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to suspend $350 million of funding to Malawi. The chairperson of the Malawi Human Rights Commission was recently arrested on charges of sedition for publishing a report that accused the government of human rights violations. “The passing of Mutharika provides a significant opportunity for Malawi to return to the democratic path we previously witnessed, and we encourage Malawi’s political officials to work cooperatively with domestic civil society on pressing human rights issues in the country.” Herman said.
Malawi is rated Partly Free in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 and Freedom of the Press 2011 reports.