Tension and incidents of violence in some areas overshadowed the country’s historic fresh presidential election (FPE) yesterday as about 6.8 million registered voters cast their votes to elect the country’s new President.
Spot-checks in selected parts of the country established that the vote was confronted by widespread tension over suspicions of alleged vote rigging schemes and a glaring disregard of standard coronavirus (Covid-19) infection prevention and control by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).
However, turnout was impressive nationwide, especially in the morning as witnessed by long queues of people who patronised polling centres to cast their ballot.
In Blantyre Urban, many centres opened on time with scores of voters arriving prior to the official 6am opening time. Turnout picked up until early afternoon and the numbers started growing again towards evening.
Polling centres such as Blantyre Sports Club, Blantyre Youth Centre, Chirimba Primary School, Limbe Primary School, Samaritan Trust and Chichiri Primary School, had higher voter turnout than other centres within the city.
In some areas polling centres were stocked with water buckets and soap for voters to use before casting their ballot as a Covid-19 precautionary measure although observing social distance was generally the biggest challenge.
But in other centres such as the Samaritan Trust, some voters could be seen exercising caution as they tried to observe social distancing. Security provided by personnel comprising Malawi Defence Force (MDF) and Malawi Police Service officers was also tight.
In an interview, Innocent Banda—a lecturer at the Malawi Education and Training Institute who voted at Chirimba Primary School—said he was happy with the whole process.
“It was smooth and fast and I liked the way people who seemed to have not understood the voting process were guided,” he said.
Bright Kankhuni, a presiding officer at Blantyre Youth Centre, said the process was also good as there were no cases of violence and hoped for the same ending.
Political party monitors and other local observers were also on their guard in all the centres to ensure all votes were accounted for.
On her part, Mary Nankwawa from National Initiative and Civic Education (Nice) Trust said the co-existence of political party monitors was also one of the factors that allowed a smooth electoral process.
On the other hand, random checks at 23 polling centres in Blantyre Rural constituencies of Blantyre North, Blantyre West and Blantyre North East found that by 1pm, less than half of the registered voters had shown up to vote.
For instance, out of 2 122 registered voters at Chikuli Primary School in Blantyre West Constituency, only about 820 had voted, representing 38.6 percent of the registered voters, according to a MEC official.
But the voting was delayed by a further 45 minutes after opening because the centre did not receive envelopes for keeping election results.
In an interview, one of the presiding officers Alinafe Banda said the voting was delayed because Malawi Congress Party (MCP) monitors had no MEC accreditation cards. He said the issue was resolved 40 minutes later when some MCP officials brought the cards.
Turnout was equally good in Zomba City where hand sanitisers and hand-washing facilities were well-placed in all centres visited
In almost all parts of the Northern Region, the exercise began at 6am, but it was characterised by some few incidents.
In Mzuzu, a group of young men near Mzuzu CCAP Primary School polling station chased unknown politicians who were using a white unregistered double cabin pickup after suspecting of distributing sums of money to prospective voters.
At Mbalachanda in Mzimba, DPP election monitor Mary Banda was arrested for allegedly being found with six voter certificates and six National ID’s belonging to other people (Read full story on Regional Page North).
Mzimba district commissioner Emmanuel Bambe—who is also MEC district returning officer—and Mzimba Police Station spokesperson Peter Botha both confirmed the matter.
“I can confirm the said issue and I have advised the police to place the said monitor under custody for investigation,” said Bambe.
However, DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi refused to comment on the issue when contacted.
In Karonga, there was commotion at Baka Lutheran School polling station in Karonga North-West Constituency where voters nearly torched a car belonging to the area’s DPP legislator, James Bond Kamwambi for allegedly ferrying voters to the polling centre.
Kamwambi and the centre’s presiding officer Weston Lungu confirmed the incident with the lawmaker claiming he was simply escorting “some relatives who could not walk”.
In Chitipa, some names in the voters roll at Chitipa Community Hall Centre went missing despite the voters’ certificates indicating that they registered at the place. They were later assisted and voted while everything seemed to go on well in Nkhata Bay, Rumphi and Likoma.
Sporadic cases of violence were also recorded in Mulanje while Kasungu and Neno also had good turnouts.
MEC conducted the election in compliance with a February 3 Constitutional Court order that nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election and directed that a fresh election be held within 150 days ending on July 3.
Additional reporting by HOLYCE KHOLOWA, ELTON MHANGO and JORDAN SIMEON-PHIRI (Correspondents)