- The presidential candidate of Malawi's ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) party, Bingu Mutharika, has threatened to sue the 'Weekend Nation' and 'The Dispatch' newspapers for what he referred to as "defamatory" articles. The newspapers had referred to an inter-governmental report over Mr Mutharika's "abuse of office".
In early May, the two newspapers ran a series of stories alleging that Mr Mutharika was fired as Secretary-General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) for "abuse of office" and "failure to motivate his management team".
The articles were published after President Bakili Muluzi publicly stated that Mr Mutharika was the only qualified candidate who can "scoop Malawi from its economic malaise."
The two Malawian newspapers quoted a report by a special committee that was set up to audit COMESA, according to reports from the Windhoek-based Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). The COMESA committee's findings led to Mr Mutharika's dismissal from the group in 1997.
At a 10 May press conference in Blantyre, Malawi's second city, Mr Mutharika said the articles were "a devious fabrication" aimed at destroying his name. Controversial presidential candidate Mutharika, who only allowed two questions during the briefing, said the audit report was false and had not been signed.
However, Alfred Ntonga, editor-in-chief of Nation Publications Limited, which publishes the 'Nation' and 'Weekend Nation', said his company would stand by its story as its sources were reliable. 'The Dispatch' managing editor Martines Namingah also defended his newspaper.
President Muluzi is conducting a tour in the country, promoting his chosen successor as the only hope for the nation. In 1999, the President told Malawians that Mr Mutharika misused money at COMESA. Ironically, President Muluzi chaired COMESA at the time that Mr Mutharika was dismissed. He now claims that his protégé was fired because of office politics.
Following his dismissal from COMESA, Mr Mutharika hastily formed the United Party (UP) in 1999, at which time he was a candidate in the presidential elections. He emerged last out of five candidates and has since rejoined the ruling UDF. President Muluzi hand-picked Mr Mutharika as the UDF torchbearer, leading to a mass exodus of the party's founding members.
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