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Malawi’s President Mutharika: ‘The election was not rigged’

President Peter Mutharika discusses alleged election fraud, corruption and Chinese investment in the country.

Peter Mutharika has governed the small African nation of Malawi since 2014.

He is a lawyer and professor who ran for a second five-year term in elections earlier this year.

But opposition parties said there were irregularities in the vote – and the high court temporarily prevented the results from being released.

The electoral commission has since declared 79-year-old Mutharika the winner of that vote, leading to thousands of Malawians protesting against the decision. Police also fired tear gas at protesters while the government accused the opposition of attempting to overthrow Mutharika by force.

“The election was not rigged, [it was] free, fair and credible,” Mutharika tells Al Jazeera, saying the claims made by the opposition are unfounded.

The president also defends a 14-day ban on protests – although he disagrees with the term ‘ban’ – granted by the courts.

“When you engage in peaceful demonstration [but] end up destroying other people’s property, injuring people, or intimidating people so they cannot move about freely, you are infringing upon their rights. No right is absolute. It’s all relative. They must all be balanced together,” he says.

Now, as he begins his new term, Mutharika faces several challenges – including dealing with poverty, corruption, and healthcare.

Just over half of Malawi’s population lives below the poverty line, with a quarter living in extreme poverty, according to the IMF. The country also ranks 120th out of 180 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

“I don’t think Malawi is that corrupt, really. I don’t think it’s different from any other country,” Mutharika says, pointing out that the country has multiple anti-corruption initiatives, including the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

“There are four agencies … that are there, they are doing their best,” he says. “Also, there is corruption in the private sector, in the media, everywhere, in the faith community. There is corruption like in other countries. What we need is collective action on the part of the central government, local government, parliament, the courts, the media, faith community, trade unions, civil society. All those, we need to act collectively to fight corruption.”