Malawi presidential election: Chakwera leading - MBC

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Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera casts his ballot during the presidential elections at the Malembo polling station in his home village at the traditional Authority Khongoni in Lilongwe on June 23, 2020.Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Malawi Congress Party leader Lazarus Chakwera heads the opposition coalition

Malawi's opposition is claiming victory in the re-run of last year's presidential election - which was held again after allegations of widespread rigging.

Official results for Tuesday's poll have not yet been declared by Malawi's electoral commission.

But state broadcaster MBC says opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera is leading with 59% of the vote.

President Peter Mutharika, who wants a second term, has 38%, it says.

A third candidate who was not regarded as a serious contender, Peter Kuwani, is said to have received less than 2% of votes.

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

BBC Africa Correspondent Andrew Harding says it was a rare - and for many an encouraging - judicial intervention on a continent where flawed, even stolen, elections are seldom overturned.

Mr Chakwera's supporters are already celebrating what they believe is an historic victory - in what would be the first time in sub-Saharan Africa that a flawed election result has been overturned, and the opposition has gone on to win power democratically.

The results announced by the MBC come from all but three of 28 districts, reports the Reuters news agency.

So far, the Malawi Electoral Commission has only announced results from 11% of the 5002 voting centres.

Analysts say the commission is meticulously checking the count to make sure there are no grounds to overturn the result again. It says the results should be announced by Saturday.

Opposition figures in several African countries have welcomed Mr Chakwera's reported victory.

"New life to Malawi!," said Zimbabwean opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa. "The Lord has given Malawi a Godly man," he added referring to Mr Chakwera's past in the clergy.

"My friend, brother and leader has just won the Malawian elections. I just got off the phone with him and celebrate his achievement," tweeted the former leader of South Africa's DA opposition party Mmusi Maimane.

An anxious wait

Our correspondent says Malawi's democratic institutions are likely to come under more strain in the coming hours and days.

The country had been bitterly divided in the run-up to Tuesday's re-run, with widespread anti-government protests.

A senior figure in the governing party has now claimed the election is being stolen.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Tuesday's vote took place amid concerns about coronavirus

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

"It is very sad. Our secretary general has been beaten up... How then will the election be credible?" it quotes the president as saying.

There has been no verification of these reports.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Lazarus 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".

Whoever wins 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.

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 are the contenders?

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 the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

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

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

The MCP leader, known as "Dr Laz" to his supporters, led the Malawi Assemblies of God church for 24 years, before retiring at the age of 58 in 2013.

His decision to go into politics surprised many - but he once said in an interview that he was asked by God to serve in another ministry.

Voting in Malawi generally follows ethnic lines - and the political scene is fractured.

But he has the backing of former President Joyce Banda as well as Vice-President Saulos Chilima, 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.

Another big achievement for Mr Chakwera has been his rebranding of the MCP, the party of independence, which was accused of rights violations and has been out of power since 1994.

His supporters hope his negotiating skills will help if he wins high office, as he has never held a position in government.