BLANTYRE- Malawi's newly elected President Peter Mutharika married his long-term partner in a colourful ceremony before local dignitaries in a jam-packed Blantyre church Saturday.
Dressed in a silver grey suit, the smiling 74-year-old exchanged rings and vows with former lawmaker Gertrude Maseko, 54, telling the new First Lady that he was giving her the ring as a "symbol of everlasting love."
Mutharika has been a widower for three decades since the death of his first wife. He has three children from that marriage.
The president had wanted the wedding to be private and insisted the costs, running to $100,000, were to be borne by the family and no state resources apart from security.
The wedding was in contrast to that staged by his late brother and former president, Bingu wa Mutharika, who used millions of dollars from state coffers for his marriage to Calista Chimombo in 2010.
Scores of Malawians, watched over by police who mounted a tight security operation, had gathered shortly after dawn outside the small but historic Protestant church built by missionaries in the early 1900s.
The bride, wearing a white wedding dress and holding a bouquet of white and yellow flowers, promised to be a "loving, faithful and dutiful wife until God shall separate us by death."
The couple abandoned plans to travel in an open-top car through Blantyre to the presidential palace because of a persistent drizzle.
"Going through the city in an open-top car would have been fantastic," said Mary Phiri, who came to the church around 7.00am to witness the ceremony, which was also broadcast live on state television.
Some 6,000 villagers and dignitaries will be treated to a reception feast with traditional dancing at Mutharika's village in southern Malawi, some 40 kilometres from Blantyre, the commercial capital.
Mutharika, the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party, won May 20 elections, defeating incumbent Joyce Banda.