Malawi vote enters second day

By Drum Digital
21 May 2014

Voting in Malawi spilled into a second day Wednesday after riots sparked by the late opening of polls.

Voting in Malawi spilled into a second day Wednesday after riots sparked by the late opening of polls marred an election seen as a test of President Joyce Banda's scandal-tainted rule.

The military was deployed Tuesday after irate voters burned polling stations amid allegations of rigging when some bureaus opened 10 hours late.

Twelve candidates are running for president, with Banda among the four frontrunners despite the fallout from a multi-million dollar graft scandal that saw donors freeze vital aid to the impoverished southern African nation.

Late openings and delivery of ballot papers disrupted voting in one percent of the more than 4,000 centres on Tuesday.

But just 13 polling stations in commercial hub Blantyre and the capital Lilongwe would reopen Wednesday -- and this once again was delayed because of organisational difficulties.

"The time required for printing" of new ballot papers meant stations would only open after midday, according to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chief Maxon Mbendera.

He warned security forces would be firm towards troublemakers.

"The commission in conjunction with the Malawi police service and the Malawi Defence force has tightened security in all polling centres where polling will take place," Mbendera told a news conference.

Long queues of people waited as voting began in Ndirande township in Blantyre under the watch of riot police, according to an AFP correspondent.

Some 7.5 million people are eligible to vote for a president, lawmakers and local government councillors in the fifth democratic polls since decades of one-party rule ended in 1994.

Following Tuesday's violence, election chief Mbendera condemned in the "strongest terms the tendency of some overzealous persons to disturb the polling or tallying process."

He warned that the commission would not "hesitate to cancel polls in any area where these acts of barbarism will occur in today's (Wednesday's) elections."

One foreign observer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the polls were free and fair despite "significant" logistical challenges, and that the violence had been spontaneous.

London-based analyst Clive Gabay said the eventual result would still be on track.

"I don't think the irregularities will have an effect on the outcome of the vote itself," he told AFP.

Banda, 64, began her term as a darling of the West, inheriting the presidency when her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika died unexpectedly in 2012.

She was feted as one of Africa's rare women leaders, but her government has since been ensnared in a $30 million corruption scandal dubbed "Cashgate".

Banda has claimed the credit for uncovering the scandal, which saw aid money siphoned into top government officials pockets, but critics say the funds went into her party's war-chest.

She nevertheless has earned respect for resuscitating a moribund economy and -- to an extent -- restoring the confidence of foreign donors.

Analysts say she stands a chance to win despite stiff competition from her hardline predecessor's brother, Peter Mutharika.

Another of Banda's closest rivals 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, but says it has since been "rebranded".

The MEC will only give preliminary results when 30 percent of ballots had been counted, according to election chief Mbendera.

"As a commission, we will not be rushed. We will be accurate in tallying results," he said, appealing for "patience and calm among all stakeholders as we tally the final results."

Official vote results are expected within eight days of the vote.

-SAPA

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