Today, May 21, about 6.8 million registered voters are expected to exercise their constitutional right to hire a President, 193 legislators and 462 ward councillors in the country’s second tripartite elections.
There are seven presidential candidates, including incumbent President Peter Mutharika who is facing competition from his Vice-President Saulos Chilima contesting on the ticket of the country’s newest registered political outfit UTM Party, Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Mutharika’s immediate past minister of Health Atupele Muluzi of United Democratic Front (UDF).
Also in the race are Umodzi Party torchbearer John Chisi and two other new faces Peter Kuwani of Mbakuwaku Movement for Development and independent Revelend Kaliya.
In the race to the 193-seat National Assembly, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) initially approved 1 333 candidates, including 304 female candidates and 501 independents who represent 31.2 percent of all candidates.
For independents, the figure represents a 17 percent increase from the 417 independents who contested in 2014.
In terms of female contestants, there were 268 in 2014 compared to this year’s 304, including 114 who are standing on independent tickets.
From zero in the first post-independence multiparty general elections in 1994, data shows a surge of independents in Parliament with four winning in 1999, 40 in 2004, 32 in 2009 and 52 in 2014.
MEC data shows that 2 615 candidates will contest for the 462 wards in the Local Government Elections with 581 (or 22.2 percent) of them women and 831 (or 31.7 percent) independents.
Youths, at 3.7 million comprising 2.1 million females and 1.6 million males, make up 54 percent of the total registered voters. However, overall, women are in majority at 3.8 million or 55.8 percent against three million males.
Ironically, there is no single female presidential candidate let alone a running mate following the withdrawal from the race of former president Joyce Banda of People’s Party (PP) who has since endorsed MCP’s Chakwera. In 2014, there were two female presidential aspirants, then incumbent president Joyce Banda and Helen Singh (now deceased).
Fighting corruption, infrastructure development, job creation, improving the economy, agriculture and health emerged as critical issues in an election campaign many analysts have trimmed to a three-horse race among Mutharika, Chakwera and Chilima.
This is the second presidential election for Mutharika, Chakwera, Muluzi and Chisi to contest after their debut in 2014.
For Chilima, Kaliya and Kuwani, it will be their first time to be on the presidential ballot paper as candidates although Chilima appeared on the 2014 presidential ballot paper one as running mate to the eventual winner Mutharika.
In the 2014 elections, Mutharika triumphed with 1 904 399 votes, representing 36.4 percent of the votes cast while second-placed Chakwera had 1 455 880 votes or 27.8 percent and then incumbent president Joyce Banda, who had ascended to the presidency in line with constitutional order after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in 2012, finished third with 1 056 236 votes accounting for 20.2 percent of the vote. Muluzi finished fourth with 717 224 votes or 13.7 percent.
Chisi was among the eight “minnows” outside the top-four who collectively amassed 94 844 of the 5 228 583 votes cast. He got 12 048 votes representing 0.22 percent.
In May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, there were 7.5 million registered voters.
The winning presidential candidate and running mate eventually become the country’s President and Vice-President, respectively.
Stakeholders have given a mixed rating for the May 21 Tripartite Elections campaign period with some describing it as successful and others bemoaning violence and proliferation of “fake news” as challenges.
MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika commended all parties for supporting the commission in civic educating voters on the electoral process, adding that the collaboration made everything run smoothly.
He said: “Political parties gave us a boost. I have seen a number of them using very big sample ballot papers to demonstrate to their supporters how to mark and vote.”
Alfandika said MEC is striving to deliver all polling materials in time to ensure that polling starts at 6am and closes at 6pm.