Unofficial results of Tuesday’s court-sanctioned fresh presidential election put Tonse Alliance presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera on a 20-point lead, vindicating findings of an opinion poll that predicted a 58 percent tally.
In its opinion poll released a week before the June 23 election, the Zomba-based Institute for Public Opinion and Research (Ipor) projected that Chakwera—the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president who partnered UTM Party president and the country’s estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima—would get 51 percent and that if undecided voters were to break his way he would tally up to 58 percent.
On the other hand, the poll projected President Peter Mutharika, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate who teamed up with United Democratic Front (UDF) leader Atupele Muluzi, would amass 38 percent.
Results of the election monitored on public broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation show that Chakwera has amassed 2 615 827 votes, representing 60.3 percent of votes cast while Mutharika got 1 693 203 votes representing 39 percent and rank-outsider Mbakuwaku Movement for Development president Peter Kuwani had 31 544 votes.
The election is for the first time being determined using the 50-percent-plus one system following the interpretation of “majority of the voters” by a five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court that on February 3 nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election over irregularities, especially in the results management system. The court ruled that Mutharika was, thus, not duly elected President and ordered a fresh election within 150 days which expire on July 3.
The Ipor survey forecasted that Chakwera would get 89 percent of his votes from the Northern Region, 82 percent in the Central Region and 23 percent in the South while Mutharika’s performance was put at nine percent in the North, 12 percent in the Centre and 75 percent in the South.
The unofficial results also point to a 36 percent voter apathy as about 4 340 574 voters of the 6 859 570 registered voters turned up. In the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections apathy was at 25 percent.
In an interview on Wednesday, political scientist Ernest Thindwa, who is also a lecturer at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi— attributed the voter apathy to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and DPP’s earlier attempt to block the fresh presidential elections.
He said: “Potential rigging attempt reports by some political parties, uncertainty on the polling dates, lack of confidence in MEC and lack of awareness frustrated voters. This resulted in low voter turnout.”
On his part, University of Livingstonia lecturer George Phiri observed that lack of critical voting information by the electorate contributed to voter apathy.
In a separate interview another political scientist Happy Kayuni said previous studies show that voters feel fatigued to vote again within a short period of time.
He said: “When people have voted, they feel they should move on and that to go again to vote is something very cumbersome and irrational.”
Reacting to unofficial results, Ipor lead researcher Boniface Dulani said in an interview on Wednesday that their poll’s projections painted a clear picture of Chakwera’s potential victory.
He said Ipor tallying showed that Chakwera was leading in the Northern and Central regions and urban centres in the Southern Region, including Blantyre City while Mutharika scored well in rural areas in the South.
Said Dulani: “Mutharika has done well in his traditional heartland, but his loss of the vote in the urban centres in Blantyre and Zomba, in particular, eliminated his path to victory. The votes in the South are not enough to square his poor performance in Central and Northern regions.
“Blantyre urban has cancelled Mutharika’s gains made in Thyolo, Mulanje, Phalombe, Zomba Rural and Mangochi. The collective Northern Region is cancelling out the advantage he has in the South heartland of the DPP. I don’t see how else he wins.”
Unofficial results in Blantyre show that Mutharika got 158 075 while Chakwera had 142 989 and Peter Kuwani got 1 844. In 2019, Mutharika had 197 633 in the district, meaning he has 39 558 votes less while Chakwera in 2019 had 38 306 votes and has gained 104 683 votes.
In the annulled elections, Mutharika was given 38 percent against Chakwera’s 35.41 percent and debutant Chilima 20.24 percent.