Lilongwe, Malawi, Jun 23 – Malawians return to the polls on Tuesday for the second time in just over a year to vote for a new president after Peter Mutharika’s re-election was annulled over rigging.
The election is much anticipated after the Constitutional Court early this year ruled that the May 2019 vote, won narrowly by Mutharika, was fraught with “grave and widespread irregularities” including the use of correction fluid on results sheets.
It ordered new elections be held within 150 days of its February ruling.
The landmark verdict, which reverberated across African politics, made Malawi the second country south of the Sahara to have presidential poll results set aside, after Kenya in 2017.
Tuesday’s election is practically a two-horse race between the president and his main rival Lazarus Chakwera, who lost the May 2019 election by 159,000 votes.
Mutharika, now 80, won with 38.5 percent of the ballots against Chakwera’s 35 percent.
On Tuesday, a candidate will have to garner more than 50 percent of the votes to be declared winner — a new threshold welcomed by the Public Affairs Committee, an influential quasi-religious civic group.
“This election is unique. First, this election is born out of a court ruling and second, they will follow the 50-percent-plus-one system,” the group said in a statement.
– ‘Remain vigilant’ –
Chakwera, 65, enjoys the support of nine political parties in his bid to unseat the president.
A new electoral commission was appointed on June 8, with Chifundo Kachale replacing Jane Ansah as chairman.
Last week Kachale vowed “the highest commitment of myself and the entire commission to deliver a credible election whose results will be acceptable by all stakeholders”.
Gift Trapence of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, which led months-long countrywide street protests against last year’s election results, has high hopes this time around.
“Our expectation is that this election will be credible and fair enough to Malawians,” Trapence said, while warning: “We will remain vigilant.”
Some 6.6 million people are registered to vote on Tuesday, with polling to begin at 6 am (0400 GMT) and lasting for 12 hours.
The polls are taking place amid the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 11 people and infected at least 730 in the poor country of 18 million.
The electoral commission will provide hand-washing stations at each of the 5,000 polling stations to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
Voters will be encouraged to bring their own face masks and will be asked to queue two arms’ lengths apart.