After months of feuding with political opponents and churches in his country, Malawian President Bakili Muluzi has announced that he will not seek a further term in office, answering the prayers and requests of Christian leaders.

In a weekend radio broadcast, Muluzi told Malawians he had endorsed a cabinet proposal naming his economic planning minister, Bingu Wa Mutharika, to run as the ruling United Democratic Front's presidential candidate.

Daniel Gunya, general secretary of the Blantyre Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, quoted in The Nation newspaper on Tuesday, welcomed the announcement.

"We are happy the battle is finally over, although after a lot of time and resources have been wasted. But we hold no grudges against anybody because it was not a personal fight," said Gunya, who is also the chair of the Forum for the Defense of the Constitution.

The Presbyterian church had been strongly critical of Muluzi's efforts to change the country's constitution to allow him to stand for a third term when his current term expired in 2004.

Muluzi, for his part, in January accused the church of stirring up hatred after it called for him to be impeached for wanting to stand for a third term.

"It is very unfortunate. Why do they want to create unnecessary tension and hatred in peaceful Malawi?" said Muluzi in an official statement, responding to call of the church, Malawi's biggest Protestant denomination.

Lawmakers last year rejected a bill proposing constitutional changes to allow for a third term. The president  persisted in his attempts to have the constitution changed.

In its January statement, the Presbyterian church described Muluzi's desire to stand for another term as "morbid and selfish"

"The third term issue is the culmination of more than eight years of misrule and mismanagement which poor Malawians do not deserve," the church said.

Muluzi, the country's first elected Muslim ruler, ousted founding President Kamuzu Banda from power in a 1994 election, and was subsequently re-elected for a second term. Muslims account for 20 percent of Malawi's population of 10 million, Protestants for 55 percent and Roman Catholics 20 percent.

A Roman Catholic association had warned in September that a constitutional amendment would create a dictatorship in Malawi.

"We need to stop the cult of personality whereby once the constitution is amended, the current leader will be portrayed as a hero and God-like figure by treating him as a source of all political wisdom and unfailing judge of the nation's interests," said the Association of Diocesan Catholic Clergy of Malawi.

Related Elsewhere

Related news includes:

Little known politician set to be Malawi's next rulerThe Financial Gazette (April 3, 2003)
Dissolution of cabinet could weaken ruling UDF—UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (April 3, 2003)
Zambia hails Muluzi's decision not to go for a third term—Zambia News Agency (April 2, 2003)
Victory for democracy as Muluzi names pres. candidate—IPS (April 2, 2003)
Africa's presidents: Are three terms too much?—BBC (April 2, 2003)
Malawi cabinet sacked—BBC (April 2, 2003)
The stirrings of democracyThe Chronicle Newspaper (March 31, 2003)

For more news on Malawi, see