Joyce Banda, who was Malawi’s first female president in 2012, has withdrawn from the 2019 presidential race, endorsing opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera who heads the Malawi Congress Party.
Speaking to AFP, Banda, who heads the People’s Party, confirmed her decision, saying: “Yes, it is true”.
But she declined to comment further ahead of a joint news conference with Chakwera on Saturday.
In a joint statement, the two parties said they had begun talks in 2015, a year after Banda lost the presidency, partly as a result of a huge multimillion-dollar corruption case known as the “Cashgate” scandal.
Banda fled the country into self-imposed exile but returned to Malawi last year, saying the allegations against her were politically motivated. She has never faced any charges.
“Malawi is bigger than individuals,” added the joint statement from Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party, the southern African country’s second largest, and Banda’s People’s Party said.
“As such we all have to set aside individual aspirations and embrace the greater and common good.”
Banda’s quest for a coalition
Six weeks ago, Banda and Vice President Saulos Chilima said they had formed a four-party alliance in a bid to take on President Peter Mutharika in the May vote.
But it didn’t last long, with Banda announcing just days later that she was submitting papers to run as a presidential candidate.
Opinion polls had previously tipped the ruling Democratic Progressive Party of President Arthur Peter Mutharika to win, but he now faces strong opposition which could reduce his chances of an outright victory.
Banda garnered just over 1 million votes in the last election, which could be enough to tip the scales in Chakwera’s favour based on his level of support in 2014.
Chakwera scored just under 1.5 million votes in that election, which Mutharika won with 1.9 million votes.
Now 68, Banda first came to power in April 2012 following the sudden death of then president Bingu wa Mutharika.
At the time, she was serving as vice president with his death propelling her into the top office where she served until May 2014.