Malawi election: Voters weigh up choice in close race




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Three Malawians supporting different partiesImage copyright
AFP

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Supporters of the leading three parties, the Democratic Progressive Party (left), the UTM Party (centre) and the Malawi Congress Party (right) have been attending rallies ahead of the vote

Malawians are going to the polls to elect a new president in what has been described as one of the country’s most unpredictable elections.

There are seven candidates, but three are seen as having a realistic chance.

President Peter Mutharika is running for a second term, but he is being challenged by his own vice-president, Saulos Chilima, and Lazarus Chakwera.

The southern African country returned to multi-party elections in 1994 after 30 years of authoritarian rule.

The winning candidate just needs to get the largest share of the votes cast rather than more than 50%. Mr Mutharika won the last election in 2014 with 36.4%.

Who are the main candidates?

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AFP

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President Peter Mutharika (right) is facing a stiff challenge from Lazarus Chakwera (left) and Saulos Chilima (centre)

  • Lazarus Chakwera – Malawi Congress Party – hoping to revive the fortunes of the former ruling party
  • Saulos Chilima – UTM Party – current vice-president running against his boss
  • Peter Mutharika – Democratic Progressive Party – current president running for a second term

The nearly seven million registered voters are also electing a new parliament and local councillors.

More than half of those who have registered are under the age of 34 and the youth vote may become a significant factor.

Mr Chilima, who is 46, left the president’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) last year after he fell out with Mr Mutharika after his fitness to run for office, at the age of 78, was questioned.

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AFP

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Election officials have been preparing voting material ahead of the poll

He has tried to appeal to young people in the promises he has made about addressing unemployment. Critics have said he will not be able to create one million jobs in his first year in office as he promised.

Mr Chakwera, 64, is the candidate for the resurgent Malawi Congress Party (MCP) – the official opposition.

The MCP led Malawi to independence in 1964 and governed the country as the sole legitimate party for three decades. But it has been out of power since multi-party politics returned 25 years ago.

Election in numbers

  • 6.9 million registered voters
  • 54% of them are between the ages of 18 and 34
  • 56% of registered voters are female
  • All 7 presidential candidates are male
  • More than 5,000 polling stations across the country
  • Polls open for 12 hours from 06:00 local time (04:00 GMT)

With high levels of poverty the economy, and in particular the state of agriculture, has been a big issue.

The government has been praised for the farm-input subsidy programme to help poor farmers but opposition parties say it has been fraught with corruption, another major issue on the campaign trail.

Polls open at 06:00 local time (04:00 GMT) and close 12 hours later. The electoral commission has eight days to announce the result, but correspondents say it could be known as early as Wednesday evening.



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