Malawi presidential election: Polls close in historic re-run

image copyrightAFP
image captionVoters are choosing between President Peter Mutharika and Lazarus Chakwera

Voting was peaceful in Malawi as people took part in a re-run poll five months after President Peter Mutharika's disputed 2019 victory was annulled.

There were long queues in some places indicating a high level of enthusiasm, reports journalist Peter Jegwa in the capital, Lilongwe.

Mr Mutharika, who wants a second term, was up against Lazarus Chakwera, who heads an opposition coalition.

Evidence of vote tampering led to judges scrapping his May 2019 victory.

The country's judiciary has been widely praised for its robust response.

Malawi became the second African nation to annul a presidential election over irregularities, after Kenya in 2017.

The country had been bitterly divided in the run-up to Tuesday's re-run, the BBC's Emmanuel Igunza reports.

Widespread anti-government protests and violence threatened to plunge Malawi into an even deeper crisis.

image copyrightAFP
image captionThe vote is taking place amid concerns about coronavirus

Speaking after he had voted in southern Malawi, Mr Mutharika alleged there had been violence in some opposition strongholds, the Reuters news agency reports.

"It is very sad. Our secretary general has been beaten up. Those causing the violence are desperate," it quotes the president as saying.

"How then will the election be credible?" he asked.

There has been no verification of these reports.

image copyrightAFP
image captionLazarus Chakwera (R) is challenging President Peter Mutharika (L)

On casting his vote in the capital, Mr Chakwera said that he had "confidence in the electoral commission to do what is right".

"I believe that Malawians' quest for justice is actually being answered today. And I believe their rights will be respected," he added.

Speaking on the eve of the vote, the head of the electoral commission, Chifundo Kachale, told BBC Focus on Africa that he was confident that everything was ready despite the election date only being set a few weeks ago.

Whoever wins the election, will have to heal these deep divisions as well as tackle key electoral issues such as corruption, poverty and unemployment.

Why was there a new vote?

A re-run of the May 2019 election was ordered by Malawi's Constitutional Court in February after judges found widespread irregularities with the original ballot.

That election saw President Mutharika narrowly re-elected by less than 159,000 votes with a 38.6% share of the vote. Mr Chakwera came second with 35.4%.

Mr Chakwera and the candidate who came third argued that the election had not been fair.

Their complaints included allegations that vote tallying forms had been added up incorrectly and tampered with using correction fluid - known in Malawi by its brand name Tipp-Ex.

A woman voting in Malawi, 21 May 2019
Getty Images
Malawi's 13-month election

  • First electionon 21 May 2019

  • Mutharikasworn in on 27 May 2019

  • Thousands proteston 20 June 2019, complaining of fraud

  • Constitutional courtoverturns result on 3 February 2020 and orders re-run

  • Court rejectsMutharika's appeal on 8 May 2020

Source: BBC

Uncertainty around the result sparked months of tension and protests, which spilled over into clashes between opposition supporters and police across the country.

February's decision to annul the election led some to celebrate, but Mr Mutharika described it as a "serious subversion of justice" which marked the death of the country's democracy.

Last month, Malawi's former electoral commission chair Jane Ansah resigned following months of pressure by protesters who criticised her handling of the poll.

The new vote comes at a time of growing tension between the government and the country's courts.

There have also been concerns over the logistics and safety of carrying out an election in the midst of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

Who was in the race?

The president and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are in an alliance with another party, the United Democratic Front (UDF).

Peter Mutharika
Peter Mutharika

Candidate for the Democratic Progressive Party

  • Born 18 July 1940

  • Law professor taught in Ethiopia, Tanzania and USA

  • BrotherBingu was Mutharika was president, died in office in 2012

  • Arrested in 2013accused of plotting coup but never charged

  • Won 2014 electionafter beating incumbent Joyce Banda

Source: BBC Monitoring

"If you give me another five-year term, this country will develop to the level of South Africa or Singapore, London, America or Canada," President Mutharika told a campaign rally in Lilongwe last week.

Mr Mutharika, a former law professor who taught in the US before becoming a cabinet minister, was first elected to Malawi's top office in 2014. Two years earlier his brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, died while serving as president.

He faces competition from Mr Chakwera, a former cleric who heads up the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

Born in Lilongwe to a subsistence farmer, the philosophy and theology graduate has pledged to raise the national minimum wage among other changes.

Lazarus Chakwera
Lazarus Chakwera

Candidate for the Tonse Alliance

  • Born 5 April 1955

  • Studied theology in Malawi, South Africa and USA

  • Pastor and lecturer worked at the Assemblies of God School of Theology

  • Authored several books on religion including Reach the Nations

  • Ran for president in 2014 and came second

Source: BBC Monitoring

Mr Chakwera is leading a nine-party opposition coalition, the Tonse Alliance, and has the backing of former President Joyce Banda as well as the country's vice-president, Saulos Chilima, as his running mate.

Mr Chilima - who finished third in the 2019 vote - was once an ally of President Mutharika, but has since fallen out with him.

The vice-president has tried to reassure the public that the result will not see a repeat of the controversies of last time.

"Do not be discouraged; come out in large numbers to cast your vote. Your vote will be protected and no room for rigging," he said on a campaign visit last week.

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