The three candidates in the country’s first fresh presidential election cast their votes yesterday alongside 6.8 million registered voters and gave mixed reactions to cases of violence that marred the process in some areas.
President Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) accused opposition parties of perpetrating incidents of violence, his main challenger Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) but leading the nine-party Tonse Alliance appealed for calm during and after the election. On the other hand, Mbakuwaku Movement for Development candidate Peter Kuwani said he was confident the electoral body will deliver a credible election.
Speaking to journalists after casting his vote at Goliati Primary School in Thyolo North East Constituency, Mutharika, 80, expressed disappointment with reported incidents of violence.
The President, accompanied by First Lady Gertrude Mutharika, claimed that he received reports that opposition party representatives were attacking DPP monitors, especially in some parts of the Central Region.
Mutharika warned that continued electoral violence would undermine efforts to have a credible election.
He said he was particularly dismayed with reports that DPP secretary general Grezelder Jeffery was forced to flee her home in Nkhotakota after an irate mob raided her premises on the eve of the election.
Said Mutharika: “It can only be the opposition… for whatever reasons I do not know.”
Video clips making rounds on social media indicate that Jeffrey was allegedly hosting people at one of her lodges, a development that raised suspicions of a vote rigging scheme; hence, community members mobilised themselves to round up the suspects.
There was a promising turnout at Goliati, mostly among women voters, but the polling station’s operations officer Sande William feared few voters would cast their votes this year.
Said the officer: “A total of 5 200 [out of 6 300] turned out to vote in the May 2019 Tripartite Elections. Much as the school [acts as] centre to many households around here, that number was also helped by students from the Malawi University of Science and Technology after MEC announced at the eleventh hour that students and others could vote at their nearest polling centre. Of course we will have a clearer picture as the day wanes.”
Chakwera, 65, speaking after casting his vote at Malembo Primary School in Lilongwe North West Constituency, said he was confident he would carry the day.
He also urged calm among his supporters, stressing the need for a peaceful election.
At Malembo Primary School, a 94-year-old voter told journalists she wanted change.
Yet another spectacle at the centre was an elderly couple ferried to the polling centre in an ox-cart.
Kuwani, 52, voted at Matimba Polling Centre in Mchinji Central Constituency. He told journalists he was confident that the election would be free and fair if it proceeded the way it started.
He said: “This is not just an ordinary election, we intended to restore peace and order in the country. As you recall, we are coming from the disputed May 21, 2019 elections.”
The country’s estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima, who is UTM Party president and Chakwera’s running mate, cast his vote at St. Thomas Anglican Church in Area 18 in Lilongwe City Centre Constituency at 6.40am.
United Democratic Front (UDF) president Atupele Muluzi, who is Mutharika’s running mate, voted at 1.50pm at Nainunje Polling Centre in Machinga, his home area.
Malawi’s former president Bakili Muluzi, father to Atupele, earlier voted at the same centre and called on Malawians to promote peace during the election to let the rightful candidate win the election.
Additional reporting by ANDREW NDHLOVU (Malawi News Agency), SUZGO CHITETE (News Analyst) and AYAMBA KANDODO (Correspondent).