Banda likely to sink with ship of one-party rule: The Life President will find it hard to remain in office if his people vote for multi-party politics today

MALAWI votes today in a referendum to decide whether it will remain a one-party state or adopt multi-party politics. Since independence in 1964, the country has been ruled by Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who had himself proclaimed President for Life in the constitution. Now in his late nineties, he is the last leader in sub-Saharan Africa to bend to the winds of multi-party democracy.

But although he grudgingly agreed to the referendum last October under pressure from Western aid donors, he has opposed the multi-party system so strongly in his recent speeches that if the vote goes against him today, he will find it hard to remain in power.

Malawi has been in the grip of an almost tangible excitement in the past few days. President Banda ruled absolutely and was proud of it. 'Everything in Malawi is my business,' he once said. Anyone who questioned, let alone opposed his rule, was beaten up or imprisoned. Some were executed, murdered or just disappeared. Britain strongly supported Dr Banda because of his opposition to sanctions against South Africa, but since the collapse of apartheid, Britain, like the other aid donors, has imposed a new agenda on Malawi that Dr Banda finds hard to comprehend. The aid donors suspended aid worth dollars 74m ( pounds 49m) last year, demanding moves to multi-party democracy after more than 40 pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in Blantyre.

Until recently this atmosphere of terror prevailed and even now the official state media, including the only radio station, urge Malawians to vote for the one-party state. But in the past few weeks opposition newspapers have sprung up and people have felt free to criticise Dr Banda in public.

In the absence of opinion polls in this overwhelmingly rural country, it is impossible to predict the outcome today, but multi-party advocates are confident of a landslide. Experienced observers estimate that there will be at least a two-thirds majority in favour of multi-party democracy.

One diplomat said: 'Dr Banda has tied himself firmly to the prow of a sinking ship.' Despite widespread intimidation by supporters of the ruling party, rallies organised by the two organisations advocating multi-party democracy have been well attended. At his last rally on Friday, Dr Banda could only manage a low turn-out beyond the party organisations, and people were reported to be streaming away before he had finished speaking.

The towns will all vote for multi- party democracy, and the north is widely regarded as lost to the President. A majority in favour of multi- party democracy is expected in the south. Only in the central region, where half the population lives and where the President comes from, is there expected to be some support for Dr Banda.

The government, which still maintains that the referendum will show those in favour of change represent a tiny dissident minority, has not disclosed its plans for what happens after the election. Chakufwa Chihana, the leader of Aford, the Alliance for Democracy, said he would call for a government of national unity leading to a constituent assembly, which would draw up a new constitution to lead rapidly to a general election.

Last Saturday, Mr Chihana was released from prison where he was serving a nine-month sentence for subversive activity. He said he felt no bitterness towards the old regime and wanted Dr Banda to stay on as a non- executive ceremonial president to preserve some continuity.

When, and if, the country does move to elections, the opposition to Dr Banda is divided between Aford and the United Democratic Front (UDF). The two parties are on good terms at the moment. The divisions between them - Aford tends to be northern, UDF southern; Aford tends to be those who have been long- term opponents of the government, the UDF tends to be made up of those who were in power until they jumped ship recently - are not deep or divisive. But come an election the prospect of Kenya stands as a warning. Here President Daniel arap Moi divided the opposition and won.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...

SAP BI CONSULTANT

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BI CONSULTA...

Infrastructure Manager - Southampton - Up to £45K

£35000 - £45000 per annum + 36 days holiday and more: Deerfoot IT Resources Li...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice