Dictator accepts defeat in Malawi

IT WAS an extraordinary end. In a calm but shaky voice, President for Life Hastings Kamuzu Banda announced by radio yesterday morning: 'Muluzi is the clear winner in the contest for president . . . I wish to congratulate him wholeheartedly for his win'.

In a continent once renowned for absolutist rule and coups, one of the most dictatorial leaders meekly accepted the democratic will, ending a career in African politics that stretches back more than 40 years. In age, Dr Banda was one of the senior African nationalists who led their nations to independence.

He continued his radio speech yesterday: 'May I offer him my full support and co-operation as he takes over the presidency of this country. As one of the incoming opposition parties, I wish to assure him that the MCP (Malawi Congress Party led by Dr Banda) will work with the UDF (United Democratic Front) government in building a better and democratic Malawi . . .

'Now is the time to bury all our political differences and work together for a united and prosperous Malawi . . . I hope that all the political parties will remain friends and not enemies.'

Unofficial returns showed Baliki Muluzi with 1.2m votes for president to Dr Banda's 800,000. Chakufwa Chihana of the Alliance for Democracy (Aford) had 600,00 votes. In the election for the 177-member parliament, the UDF had captured 85, Dr Banda's Malawi Congress Party 41, and Aford 35. The official outcome from an estimated 3.7 million voters was expected last night from the election commission.

Malawi's new president is 51, a bustling extrovert who was once close to Dr Banda and his deputy. Mr Muluzi will face huge problems in settling the country down after the election and fulfilling the expectations of democratic change. He may not have an absolute majority in parliament and his southern-based party will be forced to form a coalition either with the northern-based Aford or the former ruling party, the MCP.

The vote has shown deep divisions in Malawi and reconciling the regions, particularly the north, the poorest and most independent- minded area, will not be easy.

Mr Muluzi has promised new roads, schools, hospitals and development and he admits that expectations are high but Malawi is one of the world's poorest nations where per capita income is about pounds 134 a year. That is almost exactly the same figure as Malawi's debt of pounds 1.2bn spread per capita. Mr Muluzi has promised to prosecute members of the previous regime, even Dr Banda, if there is evidence of crime but he does not want a witch-hunt. Of immediate concern is the remnant of the Young Pioneers, the young thugs of the MCP, many of whom have fled to neighbouring Mozambique.