Malawians vote in crucial presidential poll rerun despite virus

Voters in Malawi have already started casting their ballots today in crucial presidential election rerun pitting incumbent Peter Mutharika and opposition coalition leader Lazarus Chakwera.

Today’s vote was necessitated after courts nullified the results of the May 2019 election. Some 6.8 million Malawians are eligible to cast ballots at more than 5,000 polling stations across the country.

A cancelled vote and rerun order

The Constitutional Court on Feb. 3, 2020 ordered that the election be held again, ruling that the first results were not valid because of widespread evidence of irregularities and vote tampering.

The court struck down the victory of incumbent President Peter Mutharika citing evidence of voting fraud, including thousands of ballots that appeared to have been altered using typing correction fluid. The ruling was upheld by the Malawi Supreme Court.

Main contenders: Incumbent vs. Opposition coalition chief

In the 2019 polls, seven presidential candidates contested but now the number has come down to two. The 79-year-old Mutharika, looking for a second and final five-year term in office is up against the leader of the opposition Malawi Congress Party, Lazarus Chakwera, 65.

Incumbent Vice President Saulos Chilima was also expected to run, but he decided instead stand as Chakwera’s vice-president, in a bid to maximize chances of unseating Mutharika.

The contest appears to be very close. The Chakwera/Chilima ticket may win 51% of the vote, according to a poll in early June by Malawi’s Institute of Public Opinion and Research.
A local newspaper The Nation referred to the vote as a “Defining Moment” for the southern African country.

COVID-19 concerns

Malawi is one of few African countries that has still recorded below 1,000 coronavirus cases as of today. The official case load stood at 749 cases.

Photos and videos of people at voting centers showed a disregard for health protocols as people were cramped together in long winding lines without the physical distancing rules, very few people were seen wearing masks including top politicians.

The Malawi Electoral Commission officers were however seen in gloves and masks as they administered voting procedures and materials to members of the public.

Local media have reported that voting is also ongoing in a number of prison facilities across the country. The process has been smooth except for a few places where opening of voting has been delayed for a number of reasons.

Malawi joins a number of African countries that went ahead with elections despite the virus . Burundi, in May 2020; held general elections with the presidential race returning the ruling party candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye as winner.

Mali held legislative elections in March as did Guinea where partial legislative elections and a constitutional referendum were held in March this year. The United Nations in all cases cautioned authorities to take all necessary measures to avoid spread of the virus.

Confirmed cases = 749
Active cases = 480
Recoveries = 258
Number of deaths = 11

John Hopkins Uni stats valid as of June 22, 2020

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on “all political actors and stakeholders to renew their commitment to credible and peaceful elections, while observing all preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19,” the U.N. spokesman said.

“The secretary-general underlines the importance of refraining from violence and hate speech, and of upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

A number of local and international organizations will observe the new elections, in an effort to make sure that they are free and fair, the newly-elected chairman of the Malawi Electoral Commission Chifundo Kachale said.

The European Union, African Union, Southern African Development Community, diplomatic missions and the Commonwealth will be observing the elections, the electoral commission’s spokesman Sangwani Mwafulirwa told AP.

Britain will also be observing the elections, the U.K.’s Acting High Commissioner to Malawi David Beer confirmed. He said that the U.K., the U.S. and the European Union are also funding domestic observation to be carried out by Malawian non-governmental organizations.

Source: africanews