20 May 2014

Malawians Vote in Tight Elections

Photo: MESN
Supporters of different political parties mingle

Malawians are voting in closely contested elections. Incumbent President Joyce Banda is facing fierce competition by several challengers in the first test of her popularity.

Voting began in the southeastern African nation of Malawi on Tuesday for a president, lawmakers and local government councillors.

The elections are the fifth democratic poll since the end of decades of one-party rule in 1994.

Incumbent Joyce Banda, a former vice president who took over on the death of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika two years ago, is facing 11 rival candidates in this first test of her support among the populace.

Her closest rival is Mutharika's brother Peter, 74, an ex-law professor and former minister who heads the Democratic Progressive Party. He is on trial for treason along with 10 other former ministers and officials on charges of trying to prevent Banda from assuming power after the death of his brother.

Other top competitors are Lazarus Chakwera, 59, of the Malawi Congress party, and Atupele Muluzi, 36, son of the first democratic president Bakili Muluzi, who is facing graft charges.

Banda, southern Africa's first female head of state and leader of the People's Party, is widely considered the favorite because of her popularity in rural areas, where she has instigated a number of development projects and farm subsidies.

However, her bid for a next term has been overshadowed by the so-called "Cashgate" scandal: involving the disappearance of 22 million euros ($30 million) from the treasury last year.

The election has seen some major hitches at some polling stations in the captial, Lilongwe, and the commercial hub of Blantyre, with voting materials failing to arrive and ballot papers being sent to the wrong end of the country.

Some 7.5 people are eligible to vote at 4,475 polling stations around the country.

(Reuters, AFP)


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