BLANTYRE, Malawi, May 19 (Xinhuanet) -- Millions of Malawians willgo to the polls on May 20 for the third multiparty general elections to choose their president, while outgoing President Bakili Muluzi will step down according to the constitution.
Five candidates are contesting the presidential election. Amongthem, John Zenus Ungapake Tembo, popularly known as JZU by his admirers, is perhaps the longest serving politician in the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), whose authoritarian regime under Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda spanned 30 years from 1964 to 1994 when the United Democratic Front (UDF) took over the reigns after winning apopular vote in the country's first multiparty democratic elections.
Now Tembo wants to restore his party's lost glory by trying to dislodge the UDF from power by carrying the MCP mantle in the May 20 general elections.
Tembo's career as a politician has sailed through the famous 1964 cabinet crisis that saw the fall of great politicians like Masauko Chipembere who died in exile in the United States; Orton Chirwa, who died in mysterious circumstances while in detention atZomba Maximum Security Prison in 1993; and Kanyama Chiume, Banda'snumber one enemy.
Among the current crop of politicians, he is the only one who sailed smoothly through Dr. Banda's era after men like Aleke Banda,Gwanda Chakuamba, Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika fell out ofgrace with the MCP regime. No wonder he was viewed as Dr. Banda's right-hand man who made important but sometimes unpopular decisions on the president's behalf.
Tembo was born on Sept. 14, 1932 in the central region districtof Dedza. His father, Zenus Ungapake Tembo, was a minister of the Church of Central African Presbyterian (CCAP).
By nature of his father's occupation, young Tembo attended several primary schools before being selected to Blantyre Secondary School. He later went to study at the University of Romain Lesotho, coming back in 1958 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political philosophy.
He had a brief stint as a teacher at Dedza Secondary School andlater taught for two years at Robert Blake Secondary School in thecentral region district of Dowa in 1958.
In 1960, two years after Dr. Banda's arrival in the country from Ghana to lead the independence struggle from the British colonial rule, Tembo was invited to take up a parliamentary seat in Dedza South constituency, a seat he has never let go to this day.
When Malawi became a republic in 1966 after attaining independence in 1964, Tembo was appointed minister of finance. He later did postgraduate studies in central banking in Britain, France and the United States before returning to take up the post of governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi, which he held for 13 years.
By 1992, Tembo had become the strongest politician after Dr. Banda.
He was member of the Central Executive Committee and Treasurer General of the MCP; he was minister of state in the President's Office - a post which gave him direct access to Dr. Banda while other minister and the secretary to the president and cabinet had to go through him to see the president.
When seven Catholic bishops issued a Lenten pastoral letter denouncing Banda's autocratic governance which triggered the wind of political change in Malawi, Tembo called for a special convention of the MCP in the capital Lilongwe to decide the fate of the bishops. The convention unanimously agreed to assassinate the bishops but the plot was never carried out because of the press and the outside world.
The UDF government prosecuted Tembo for masterminding the assassination plot but the would-be-victims (the bishops) asked the state to drop the charges because as men of God they did not believe in waging a vendetta against him.
The courts also cleared Tembo of involvement of a high profile political assassination of three cabinet ministers and an MP in the epic Mwanza Murders Case in which he was implicated as masterminding the death of ministers Dick Matenje, Aaron Gadama, Twaibu Sangala and MP David Chiwanga in a make-believe road accident for dissent - Idi Amin Dada of Uganda-style.
During the MCP era, Malawi enjoyed economic stability and donors rated the country as a star performer.
Tembo attributes this to sound economic management and the leadership of Dr. Banda, saying he was an educated, exposed and well read leader unlike his successor, Dr. Bakili Muluzi.
"A strong leader must have the support of his subordinates. This is a powerful tool for the success of any government, and when I get into government, I will make sure civil servants are happy so that they can support me," he says.
Regardless of his vast political experience, chances of Tembo getting into government are remote, considering that the MCP, the strongest opposition party since 1994, is now fragmented with VicePresident Gwanda Chakuamba now leading the Mgwirizano (Unity) Coalition breaking away to form his own Republican Party which commands quite a following in the most populous southern region ofthe country. Enditem