Polls Close in Malawi

19 May 2009

Polls have closed in Malawi's presidential and parliamentary elections. Election officials say polling was largely orderly and peaceful and are promising transparency in the counting process.

Election officials in Malawi say voter turnout was high in Tuesday elections and many people had to wait for hours to cast their ballots.

Electoral Commission spokesman Fegus Lipenga told VOA that a few voters had been turned away from polling centers because their names were not on the list. But he said these problems had been solved.

"People are voting peacefully and the police are on the ground to make sure they check any cases of violence but we are very satisfied that the process is going on very smoothly," he said.

Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika in Lilongwe, during a campaign, 14 May 2009
Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika in Lilongwe, during a campaign, 14 May 2009
Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika is seeking a second term and a parliamentary majority for his Democratic Progressive Party.

He is being challenged by opposition leader John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party who has been endorsed by former President Bakili Muluzi and his United Democratic Front.

Mr. Muluzi tried to run for a third term but his bid was overturned by Malawi's Constitutional Court.

Many voters said they expected the winners to deliver on their campaign promises.

Evance Chiphwanya, a Blantyre businessman, said peace and poverty eradication should be a priority for the new leadership.

"The first thing we need to have is a peaceful country. And secondly, it's poverty that is also in the country which we need to be eradicated," he said. "Because when you are a peaceful country and there is not poverty it is easy for the people to go forward."

Journalist Dumisani Chirwa said improving infrastructure and services should be high on the new government's program.

"I would like the next government to focus on the infrastructure development and the roads as well as good schools and good medical care for the people of this country," said Chirwa.

Rebecca Ngalande, a nurse, wants the government to address the shortage of clean water and health services in the country.

"We need a lot of clinics near the people so that women, especially pregnant women, should not [have to] travel far," she said. "Because this is one of the reasons why a lot of women, instead of going to the hospital to deliver, they are going to the traditional birth attendants to deliver."

"I would like to ask the government to come to promote sports in the country. And it's my belief that from now onwards more medals will come to Malawi. We'll have the gold medalist in Malawi as well as the role models in sports," said Naomi Chinatu, who works for a civic group that promotes sports in Malawi.

Election official Lipenga said the commission is now focusing on counting the vote.

"We are going to announce the results in a transparent manner. And we have also appealed to all the political parties to make sure that they have their monitors at every stage of the counting process, starting from the [polling] centers to the constituencies and even at the national results center here at Blantyre," said Lipenga.

More than 1,000 candidates are also vying for the 193 seats in parliament.

Analysts doubt that any one party will win a majority of the parliamentary seats. If that occurs, they say the leading parties will need to forge alliances with the various small parties that are also contesting the vote.

Officials expect to announce the results on Thursday.