Malawi voters head to the polls

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iol pic afr malawi elections AFP Voters wait to cast their ballots at a polling station inside Goliati Primary School in the Thyolo district, about 50km outside Blantyre, Malawi. File picture: Anna Zieminski

Blantyre - Malawians voted on Tuesday in closely fought elections, but polling was delayed by several hours in parts of the tiny and impoverished southern African nation, sparking anger among voters.

Around 2 000 people queued in chilly morning temperatures at the old town hall in Blantyre, the commercial capital, where voting had not begun more than two hours after schedule.

Impatient voters sang and shouted, with around 50 angry youths staging an impromptu mini-protest carrying branches and chanting anti-government songs.

“This is a disorganised government. Maybe they are trying to rig the election,” said, Paul Wind, 38.

“If they think they will frustrate us from voting, they are wrong. We will be here until we vote,” he said.

“I suspect they want to steal this vote,” said Evans Mukiwa, 24, who arrived at the polling station at 4.30am, 90 minutes before the official opening time.

About 7.5 million voters are to choose a president, lawmakers and local government councillors in the fifth democratic elections since the end of decades of one-party rule in 1994.

Twelve candidates are in the race for the presidency but pollsters say the victor will be one of four frontrunners.

President Joyce Banda, the former vice-president who took over on the death in office of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika two years ago, faces the first test of her personal popularity.

Her bid to be elected president in her own right is overshadowed by the so-called “Cashgate” scandal involving the disappearance of $30 million from the treasury last year.

Her closest rival is Mutharika's sibling, 74-year-old Peter, an ex-law professor and former minister who had been heir-apparent to his brother.

Mutharika, who leads the Democratic Progressive Party, claims that under Banda the government is “dysfunctional”.

He is on trial for treason, along with 10 other former ministers and officials, accused of trying to prevent Banda from assuming power after the death of his brother.

Another of Banda's closest competitors is political novice and former cleric Lazarus Chakwera, 59. His Malawi Congress Party led the country after independence from Britain for three decades under dictator Kamuzu Banda.

He says the party has now been “rebranded” from its dark past.

The fourth of the leading contenders is Atupele Muluzi, 36, son of the first democratic president Bakili Muluzi.

His father is facing graft charges after 12 million dollars vanished from the treasury during his tenure.

Voting was due to take place at 4 475 polling stations dotted around the country, which neighbours Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania. - AFP



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