President Takes Early Lead in Malawi Election

20 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, 14 May 2009
Election officials in Malawi have begun counting the vote from Tuesday's elections. The vote is being praised by observers as orderly and marked by few irregularities.

Election observers from Malawi and abroad Wednesday expressed satisfaction over the presidential and parliamentary elections saying they were peaceful and marked by high voter turn-out.

The head of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, Denis Kadima, said Tuesday's polling was a vast improvement over elections five years ago which were marred by violence and irregularities.

"The process went very well. Actually it exceeded the expectations of many people," Kadima said. "If you look at what happened in this country in 2004 the process [then] was quite weak. But this time around there has been a great level of improvement."

Observers noted that some voters could not find their names on the rolls. But they said officials resolved most of these problems and only a few were prevented from voting.

However, the head of the Malawi-based Gender Coordination Network, Emma Kaliya, criticized the delay in vote tabulation.

"I think the process is quite slow," Kaliya said. "I do understand and appreciate that our technology can be a bit challenging. But also yesterday the voting went on until very late. And in the rural areas for them to organize the results to come to the tallying center it is taking a bit long."

Ghana's President John Kufuor, (file photo)
Ghana's former President John Kufuor, (file photo)
The head of the Commonwealth observer group, former Ghanaian President John Kufuor, criticized a bias in media coverage in favor of government candidates.

"The major handicap, we thought, was the lack of coverage of the parties outside government," Mr. Kufour said. "We did not see much in the media of the other parties except the government only. And that disturbed us a bit."

President Bingu wa Mutharika is seeking a second term and a majority in parliament for his Democratic Progress Party. He is being challenged by John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party who has been endorsed by former President Bakili Muluzi and his United Congress Party.

Mr. Mutharika is a former ally of Mr. Muluzi. But he broke away soon after his election five years ago to form his own party, leading to an intense rivalry during this campaign.

On the eve of the vote, police arrested several employees of an opposition radio station, Joy FM. The station was taken off the air on charges of broadcasting election propaganda after the campaign had officially ended on Sunday.

Station officials said the late-night broadcast was an accident and counter-charged that pro-government media had been broadcasting anti-opposition material since the end of the campaign.  

The election coordinator of the local Justice Link group, Levi Chaima, said the peaceful election was a victory for all and it is time to forget the tensions of the past.

"Definitely the way Malawians have conducted themselves, this is a vote of confidence in the government that is coming. So let's work together as a nation," Chaima said. "Let's be partners with the government."

Election officials say they expect to announce the final results on Thursday.