Incumbent President Arthur Peter Mutharika is seeking re-election to commence his second term as Head of State, promising “to improve the economy that creates jobs and wealth.”
Unemployment and corruption fight have been some of the bread and butter issues that underlined vigorous campaigns by leading political parties.
Polling opened smoothly in many polling centres at 6 am, but MEC Chairperson Jane Ansah told journalists on Tuesday at the main tally centre in Blantyre that some centres in Chitipa and Zomba delayed by four hours and banned news organisations not to start announcing unofficial results until 10.25 pm tonight to avoid influencing polling in the affected districts.
However, later MEC rescinded its decision to bar media from announcing unofficial results before 10.25 pm allowing media houses to start announcing just after 07.00 pm. This, according to Chief Elections Officer Sam Alfandika is meant to shutdown space for fake news peddlers who might take advance of the blackout up to 10:25 pm.
Ansah said the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) had monitored many centres and polling progressed well.
"Turnout has been very impressive, many centres that we visited had long queues," she said.
She said some selected centres reported challenges but the Commission response teams had been efficient in addressing queries or problems received, especially challenges that could have hampered smooth polling process.
Citing a case of Kanyenjere School in Zambwe Ward in Chitipa Central which was reported not having a voters’ register, she said the Commission managed to provide a register and polling started at 10.25 am and will consequently proceed up to 10.25 pm to fulfill the legal requirement of opening centres for 12 hours.
Regarding polling by people with visual challenges, Ansah emphasised that the Commission has placed a tactile ballot template at every centre and all people that want can use them. The polling staff have already been trained how to teach people on the use of tactile templates.
The MEC head said her Commission had also to make a decision allowing students to vote because "during the time we were conducting voter registration and voter verification they were not on campus."
She however bemoaned "with deep concern" that some people had snapped and posted their marked ballot papers on social media.
"Let me repeat that this is a violation of electoral laws. This is an electoral offence and law enforcers should take appropriate action to curb the malpractice.
Results to be announced within 8 days
On results announcement, she said the "law has given the Commission eight days from the conclusion of polling within which to announce results. Therefore, the nation should expect the results any day within this period."
She clarified that results counting will be done at each stream simultaneously. "All streams will be counted at the same time and not one stream at a time. Counting of votes will take place at the same stream where polling took place by the same people that managed the polling process.
She said during the process of vote counting, "We do not want people to be coming to the centres and waiting for results. No one stays at the centre to spectate results counting unless they have been accredited to do so."
Case of Saulos Chilima
The MEC Chief said the Commission was investigating how a temporary worker they engaged managed to transfer from the list the name of UTM president Saulos Chilima to Likoma Island from Lilongwe where he registered.
She said police were hunting for the suspect and once caught, the arm of law will take its course and he will be tried in court and appropriate punishment meted out.
Despite this, Chilima was allowed to vote by polling staff.
Three other main candidates are challenging Mutharika. They are his vice president Saulos Chilima of UTM, who rebelled against Mutharika to form his own party last year, former cleric Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party and Atupele Muluzi of UDF, the son of former president Bakili Muluzi. Until last week, the young Muluzi was Health Minister in the Mutharika administration.
Mutharika, in power since 2014 when he ousted president Joyce Banda, is banking re-election on his delivery of signature infrastructure developments under his governing Democratic Progress party (DPP), which aims to create employment, modernize and industrialize the agriculture-powered economy.