Chaos Mars Malawi Polls
Lilongwe ‑Professor Peter Mutharika, 74, is Malawi front-runner in the country’s first tripartite elections held on Tuesday and Wednesday (May 20-21).
According to reports reaching The Southern Times, Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has penetrated the northern and southern regions including the strongholds of main rivals Joyce Banda of the People’s Party and Reverend turned politician Lazarous hakwera, 59.
Preliminary election results seem to be tilting towards Mutharika, brother to Bingu wa Mutharika who died of cardiac arrest in April 2012 giving way to his estranged deputy Joyce Banda, 64, to take over government despite falling from grace.
For the first time Malawi elections fielded 17 political parties from the country’s over 50 parties.
Twelve presidential candidates contested with front-runners from the out-going People’s Party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the United Democratic Front (UDF).
Son to former Malawi’s first multiparty president, Bakili Muluzi, 35-year-old Atupele Muluzi, who caused stir with his “Agenda for Change” campaign was expected to attract the support of first-time voters.
The 17 participating parties also competed for the 193-seat National Assembly legislative seats while a total of 2 398 candidates competed for the local governments’ 462 seats.
This is the second time Malawi has gone for the local government elections since the attainment of multiparty democracy in 1994. The last elections were held in 2000 where the turnout was very poor with only 14 percent of the average turnout in the southern African nations’ presidential and parliamentary elections in 1994, which attracted about 78 percent.
Malawi has, since the expiry of the term of the first local councillors in 2005, operated without locally elected officials.
The 2014 elections have produced its share of violence dating from the campaign period where two people were reportedly killed during a campaign rally held by then president Joyce Banda on March 16 in Thyolo, a stronghold for the DPP and its presidential candidate, Peter Mutharika.
Other incidences took on May 20 on the day of voting forcing the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to extend the polls to Wednesday May 21.
The violence that erupted followed “logistical” problems that besieged the commissions’ efforts to transport and deliver polling materials.
MEC Chief, Maxon Mbendera, however, urged Malawians and stakeholders, including political party leaders to exercise restraint as the speculations of vote rigging could end up disrupting the voting process.
In Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital city and stronghold for the PP, the DPP and the UDF, police fired teargas to disperse angry protesters who burnt polling materials in the wake of allegations of vote rigging.
Foreign diplomats say they have seen no credible evidence of vote-rigging, but the problems by MEC were likely to fuel distrust in President Banda and her PP-led government.
Other places that faced disruption apart from Blantyre include Zomba, Malawi’s former capital city and Banda’s stronghold and Lilongwe city, the country’s administrative capital.
Mbendera said other places that experienced disruption were to extend voting into the night while other would be left to vote on Wednesday.
The Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN), a local think-tank monitoring the country's tripartite elections, said it had received reports of rioting in some parts of the country. “As MESN, and indeed the entire taskforce on the Malawi Information Centre, we would like to express our concern on the widespread late opening of polling centres across the country. We note that most polling stations opened as late as 09h00 instead of 06h00,” Steve Duwa, the organisation's chairperson told journalists during a Press briefing.
The official said MESN had received messages from observers across the country on the late opening of polling stations, adding that out of the 386 polling stations observed, 67 opened on time representing a 17 percent of the polling station where opening was observed.
The organisation also expressed concern over the lack of materials in most polling stations across the country where there was a shortage of ink, voter register and ballot boxes and has since called on the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to deal with the hiccups so that most voters are allowed to vote.
“We would like to call upon MEC and all relevant stakeholders to immediately address these concerns to avoid massive voter apathy and violence. As MESN and the taskforce on the Malawi Election Information Centre, we strongly feel such developments have the potential of negatively affecting the elections,” he added.
The organisation has since appealed to the electoral body to extend the voting period in all centres that opened late to ensure that all registered voters are given an opportunity to vote. About 7.4 million registered voters trooped to various polling centres across Malawi in the early hours of Tuesday to vote for a president, lawmakers and local government leaders in the country's fifth elections since the return to multi-party politics in 1994.
Malawi has 7.4 million registered voters out of a population of 16 million.
Banda lost the trust of the people when her government got entangled in a financial scandal dubbed “cashgate” in which millions of dollars were looted from government funds by civil servants who colluded with politicians and some connected business magnets to make payments for goods and services that were never delivered.
Eighty people were arrested and are currently facing charges surrounding the scandal, also a former cabinet minister has been dismissed and put on trial as the international donors froze US$150 million in aid. Foreign aid makes up to 40 percent of Malawi's budget.
However Banda has challenged that she was ready to lose power as long as she initiated the fight against high-level graft.
“The fact that 'cashgate' happened on my watch, I take full responsibility,” said Banda while campaigning. “But the mere fact that it broke means we're seriously tackling corruption.”
By law, election results are to be released within seven days after voting.