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23.05.2019 Malawi

Main opposition warns of rigging in close Malawi vote

By Jack MCBRAMS
Millions of voters cast ballots in the election which could see President Peter Mutharika win a second term.  By AMOS GUMULIRA (AFP)
MAY 23, 2019 MALAWI
Millions of voters cast ballots in the election which could see President Peter Mutharika win a second term. By AMOS GUMULIRA (AFP)

Malawi opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera on Wednesday warned against attempts to rig the country's election, claiming he was leading as votes were slowly tallied.

Early official results showed President Peter Mutharika and Chakwera were equal on about 37 percent of the vote with about one-third of polling centres counted after Tuesday's election.

Chakwera said his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) was conducting its own count, even though local observers earlier declared the election largely free and fair.

"So far the message is clear, we know that we have a tremendous lead," he told a news conference at his house in Blantyre.

"No one is going to rig this election. Justice is going to prevail."

The country has around 6.8 million potential voters but turn-out has not been published.

Mutharika, in office since 2014, has faced accusations of corruption and cronyism.

"Those in power, I know you, you're trying to tamper with elections," Chakwera said, who came a narrow second in the 2014 election.

"I warn you, you will soon face the long arm of the law".

Chakwera has campaigned on an anti-graft platform and has been credited with reviving the MCP.

Two months ago, he secured the high-profile support of former president Joyce Banda.

Close count

The MCP ruled Malawi from 1964 to 1994 under Hastings Banda's one-party rule but has since been in opposition.

The other main candidate contesting the election is Mutharika's own deputy president Saulos Chilima.

Nandin Patel, political science lecturer at the Catholic University in Malawi, told AFP that the close election count could be "very contentious".

Malawi has a "winner takes all" system and in 2014 Mutharika won with just 36 percent of the vote.

He came to power in the aid-dependent country vowing to tackle corruption after the "Cashgate" scandal erupted a year earlier, revealing massive looting from state coffers.

But his government has been dogged by several high-profile cases of corruption and nepotism.

Jane Ansah, chairwoman of the Malawi Electoral Commission, told reporters that transmission problems had slowed the vote count.

The National Initiative for Civic Education, which deployed more than 5,000 monitors, said in a statement that despite isolated incidents of scuffles and disputes, election day was largely peaceful.

Foreign observer missions are expected to give their verdicts on Thursday.

Under Mutharika, inflation in the southeast African country has fallen from 23 percent to below nine percent, but still just 11 percent of the population has access to mains electricity.

The election is the first since a new law forced parties to declare large donations and banned the once-common practice by candidates of giving cash handouts.

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