Malawians have defied a worsening coronavirus outbreak to cast ballots in a fresh presidential election four months after the Constitutional Court nullified President Peter Mutharika’s re-election in last year’s messy poll.
The 82-year-old is seeking a fresh mandate in a poll Justice Jane Ansah, the former Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chief, wanted to be postponed ostensibly to pave the way for the fight against the global pandemic.
The incumbent faces fierce competition from Malawi Congress Party President and Tonse Alliance torchbearer Lazarus Chakwera, who has paired up with Vice-President Saulos Chilima of the UTM Party.
Chilima formed the UTM Party in protest against corruption in the governing DPP, the party that propelled him into political stardom in 2014.
On the eve of Tuesday’s poll, Ansah’s successor, Justice Chifundo Kachale, assured journalists in Blantyre that there would be strict precautions to contain coronavirus during polling.
As early as 5am, Malawians started queuing in the election which the Zomba-based Institute for Public Opinion and Research expects Chakwera to triumph over Mutharika by over half of the votes.
However, there was no social distancing, hand-washing stations, alcohol-based hand sanitisers when Malawians polled in the highly patronised election.
Coronavirus is transmitted through contact with infected droplets on contaminated surfaces, including hands, as well as when talking, sneezing and coughing.
The fast-spreading virus which was discovered in China six months ago can be prevented by frequently washing hands with soap, keeping two metres apart and wearing masks.
Although the electoral commission staff made sure to wear face masks, there were none for party monitors and voters.
The voters on forming queues also had to dip their fingers in a single pot of ink to ensure they do not vote more than once, increasing the risk of contracting the virus if an infected person went ahead of them.
Some voters accused MEC of needlessly exposing them to the risk of contracting the virus most likely to kill the elderly and persons with chronic illnesses, including HIV, hypertension, diabetes and asthma.
The interviewees reckon the absence of coronavirus preventive measures shows a growing laxity in the national coronavirus response, with decreasing sights of hand-washing stations in homesteads, shops and workplaces.
The pandemic has claimed 11 lives from almost 803 confirmed cases, the Malawi Public Health Institute reported on Monday.
The count rose to the highest point on Sunday when the Ministry of Health diagnosed 110 cases, mostly comprising returnees from South Africa, the epicentre of the pandemic in southern Africa.