Malawi: Tense Malawi Bracing for Landmark Polls

Lilongwe — AMID widespread killing of people living with albinism, attacks against international observers and inter-party tensions, Malawi is heading for watershed polls next Tuesday, 25 years after the restoration of democracy.

The aforementioned violations are a culmination of tensions reaching fever-pitch.

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) earlier this week temporarily withdrew two of its long-term election observers after they were attacked in the southern Chikwawa district.

"We are here in the country to support Malawi at this important time," EU EOM stated after the attack.

"The well-being of our observers is, of course, a major priority so we will continue to liaise with the police in the areas where our observers are based to ensure their well-being."

Some 28 EU election observers have been deployed around the country to oversee the period leading to, during and after polls set for Tuesday.

The elections will also be held in the context of longstanding criminal justice failures and widespread impunity for the killing of people living with albinism, human rights organisations told CAJ News Africa.

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's director for Southern Africa, said as Malawians went to the polls, it was time for the country to break with years of impunity for the killings and mutilation of people with albinism.

The activist said atrocities which remain unresolved owing to criminal justice failures and ineffective criminal investigations must be addressed.

"The incoming government must prioritise rebuilding the criminal justice system, ensuring that it works for all people, including people with albinism who are some of society's most vulnerable individuals," Muchena said.

False beliefs that albinos' body parts have magical powers are blamed for the rise of violations.

At least 22 people with the condition (albinism) have been killed since 2014. The murders are among some 163 violations during the period.

Last week, anxiety came to a head when incumbent, President Peter Mutharika, alleged a plot by some churches working with his so-called enemies to overthrow him.

Mutharika is the flag bearer of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Other candidates include his deputy, Saulos Chilima, with whom he fell out. Chilima now leads the United Transformation Movement (UTM).

Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) are contesting. Former president, Joyce Banda, withdrew her candidacy and endorsed Chakwera.

There have been counter-accusations of vote rigging.

Christians this week commenced the 21 Days of Intensive Prayers with a call on the electorate to choose God-fearing leaders.

The Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) leads the prayers.

"The Church has a critical role to play in the attainment of peaceful and credible elections in this country," Rev. Francis Mkandawire, General Secretary of EAM, stated.

Over 6,8 million voters are registered, out of the country's population of more than 19 million people. The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has pledged to organise credible polls.

Malawi ceased to be a one-party state following a referendum in 1993, preceding elections in 1994.

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