Malawi swears in first female president, easing fears | News | DW | 07.04.2012
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Malawi swears in first female president, easing fears

Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda, has been sworn into office. Officials had been hesitant in announcing the death of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika, raising fears of a succession crisis.

Former Vice President Joyce Banda was sworn in as the first female president of Malawi on Saturday in the capital, Lilongwe.

"I will well and truly perform the functions of the high office of the president of the Republic of Malawi," Banda said, reciting the oath of office. "I will preserve and defend the constitution, and ... I will do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favor."

The Malawian government only confirmed President Bingu wa Mutharika's death on Saturday, two days after he died. The death had been reported to the media on Friday by doctors, on condition of anonymity.

The delay in making the announcement and handing power to Banda - as consistent with the country's constitution - led to speculation that the succession would be contested by supporters of her former ally and subsequent political rival Mutharika.

Late president of Malawi Bingu wa Mutharika

Mutharika had been urged to quit power

"I just sincerely hope that there is no room for revenge. I just sincerely hope that we shall stand united," said Banda, amid thunderous applause in parliament after the oath of office was taken.

At a press conference on Saturday before the ceremony, Banda appeared to dismiss speculation and announced 10 days of national mourning. "I don't think there's any way we can discuss who is caretaker (president) and who is not," she said, flanked by army and police officials. "The constitution is prevailing right now."

Parliament poses a challenge

Banda becomes only the second female African head of state in modern times after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

She will have to contend with a parliament that is dominated by Mutharika's party, which expelled her last year. Despite the expulsion from the party, she remained vice president.

Banda now leads her own People's Party. She has been a fierce critic of Mutharika, accusing him of running the economy disastrously.

Mutharika, a former World Bank economist who first came to power in 2004, was re-elected with a sweeping majority in 2009. He was increasingly criticized for attempts to shackle the media.

Public frustration turned into nationwide street protests in July, in which police shot 19 people dead. Last month, a broad coalition of rights groups called on Mutharika to stand down.

rc/tm (AP, AFP, Reuters)