/ 21 May 2009

Malawi president takes lead in vote count

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika took the lead according to official figures on Wednesday in an election seen as a test of political stability in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

He based his campaign for a second term on his record of turning Malawi into a net food exporter and delivering three years of growth above 7% in the country of 13-million where annual gross domestic product is only $313 per capita.

But he faced an opposition challenge united behind long-time opposition leader John Tembo, who had the support of former president Bakili Muluzi, himself excluded from the contest.

The Malawi Electoral Commission said Wa Mutharika had 335 752 votes compared to rival Tembo’s 78 803 votes. It announced results from 31 centres out of a total of 193.

Malawi has the world’s second-fastest growing economy, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. But a repeat of paralysing political upheaval could hurt efforts to attract more foreign investors.

Wa Mutharika hopes the election will give him a parliamentary majority for the first time, ending a long stand-off with the opposition that almost paralysed government.

A parliamentary vote was also held on Tuesday.

Head of the electoral commission Anastasia Msosa said counting was expected to be completed on Thursday, when final results would be announced. — Reuters