Opposition victory likely in Malawi

Malawian opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera appeared to be headed for victory on Thursday in a re-run of a presidential vote that was scrapped over massive irregularities, unofficial tallies showed.

Voters went to the polls on Tuesday for a second time in just more than a year to elect a president after the Constitutional Court ordered new elections in a historic vote seen as a test for democracy in the southern African country.

Results compiled from each of the 5 002 polling centres and tallied by the public broadcaster MBC and Times newspaper, gave Chakwera, of the Malawi Congress Party, a dominant 59% lead ahead of incumbent President Peter Mutharika’s 38%.

Mutharika, of the Democratic Progressive Party, has been in power since 2014. He won 38.5% of last year’s discredited vote, in which Chakwera garnered 35.4%.

The country’s electoral commission said on Thursday it had received results from 26 of the country’s 28 districts — representing 82% of the total vote. But it did not say when it would release the full results, as it appealed for patience and calm.

The cancellation of Mutharika’s victory was historic: it made Malawi just the second country south of the Sahara to have presidential poll results set aside, after Kenya in 2017. Opposition politicians in neighbouring countries have already congratulated the 65-year old Chakwera. “New life to Malawi! Congratulations to the President Elect. Kudos to state organs’ professionalism & citizens’ vigilance. Well done Malawi!” tweeted Nelson Chamisa of Zimbabwe’s main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC-A).

Mmusi Maimane, the former leader of South Africa’s main opposition, the Democratic Alliance, also tweeted: “My friend, brother and leader has just won the Malawian elections. I just got off the phone with him and celebrate his achievement … Change is coming.”

The chairman of the Malawi Electoral Commission, Chifundo Kachale, urged calm as results were being finalised. “We appeal to Malawians to maintain peace and calm as the vote-counting continues,” he told a news conference in Blantyre on Wednesday.

Mutharika has accused the opposition of inciting violence after isolated incidents that the police and electoral commission said had not affected the election.

“It’s obvious that the opposition is doing this,” Mutharika told reporters after voting in Blantyre on Tuesday, claiming some of his party monitors were “chased away; some were beaten”.

“It’s obviously people that are afraid of the will of the people that are engaging in these barbaric acts,” he alleged.

But analysts suggest Mutharika may be preparing to challenge the outcome in case he loses. “I think he is preparing the political, maybe

the legal ground, for losing,” Peter Fabricius of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies said.

Mutharika, 79, did not take the decision of the Constitutional Court lightly when it overturned last year’s poll. He accused judges of working with the opposition to steal the election through what he dubbed a “judicial coup d’état”.

United front

About 6.8-million people were asked to choose between Mutharika, Chakwera and underdog candidate Peter Kuwani. Chakwera teamed up for this election with another leading opposition party leader, Saulos Chilima, to present a united front. Chilima is currently Malawi’s vice-president, but fell out with Mutharika. Should the opposition alliance be victorious, Chilima will be vice-president again.

The electoral commission has until July 3 to announce the results, although the announcement is widely thought likely to come this week.

Kachale says the commission will announce results only after dealing with all the complaints. Departing from the past practice of transmitting results electronically from polling stations, this time all results sheets are being transported physically under armed military escort.

Kachale said they had ditched the electronic transmission of results so that “no one should wake up and raise allegations of hacking or infiltration of the results”. — AFP

Diary of a Malawian election observer

I woke up at 5am on election day, and was on the road all day. I went to my polling station in Lilongwe at 5.30am. The actual voting started at 6.10am. I was the second person to vote at my centre.

Then I left my place, and went to my village — Chizuma village, where my father is the headman — about 150km from Lilongwe.

I took my mother with me. Although she lives at my house, she is registered to vote in the village, and she said there was no way that she was not going to vote.

In the village, I picked up some of my cousins and took them to the voting station. Then I dropped them back at their homes, and drove to the neighbouring district, Salima, where I was going to observe the voting. There are four constituencies in Salima, and I visited all of them — 12 polling stations in total.

What I saw was amazing. By 10.30am, I was already at polling station number four. At all the polling stations I had visited, more than half of the registered voters had already voted. You would have a polling station with about 800 registered voters, and more than 500 had voted. You can tell by the number of packs of ballot papers that had been used .

It was fascinating to see that 70% or 80% of the people in the queues were women, even though there are no women on the ballot paper. That got me thinking. There were also a lot of really old people, in their 80s and 90s, being helped by their children to vote.

This is a turning point for Malawi. People have seen how politics affects their daily lives. For the past 13 months or so, Malawi’s democracy has matured, probably 10 times over.

The people of Malawi are quite awake now. I don’t think any Malawian will ever take any rubbish again. I don’t see this country going back to where it was.

After I had finished the observations, I went back to my village to pick up my mother. I made everyone show me their finger dipped in ink, to prove they had voted.

There was one cousin with clean fingers — I said, “You are going to vote, now!” There was just 10 minutes before the voting closed at 6pm, but we were only five minutes away from the polling station, so she made it just in time.

My mother and I drove back to Lilongwe. My colleagues stayed in Salima to observe the counting — everything went smoothly. Now we wait for the official results. — Martha Chizuma, as told to Simon Allison. Chizuma is Malawi’s national ombudsman and a commissioner of the Malawi Human Rights Commission

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