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  • Malawians are lined up to vote for elections.

    Malawians are lined up to vote for elections. | Photo: Twitter / @KachikhawoA

Published 21 May 2019

Malawians go to polls to elect a new president where incumbent Peter Mutharika is in tight race with deputy president. 

Malawians vote Tuesday in presidential and parliamentary elections seen as a tough test for President Peter Mutharika who is running neck in neck with Deputy President Saulos Chilima, a former pastor heading the opposition.

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Polling at the nation's 5,000 stations started at 6:00a.m. local time and will close at 6:00 p.m. Around 6.8 million people are eligible to vote for the president, parliament and local councilors. 

A former law professor, Mutharika, 78, has been in power since 2014 and faces opposition from his own deputy. He oversaw infrastructure improvements and a slowdown in inflation during his first five-year term, but critics accuse him of corruption and cronyism. Currently, only 11 percent of the population have access to electricity.

Mutharika refutes such accusations. He is popular in rural areas for his government's agricultural subsidies, but elsewhere some people want change.

"People should be free to vote as they like. That is a democracy," incumbent Mutharika told reporters at a polling station in his home district of Thyolo.

He cast his vote accompanied by senior figures from his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

"I have a strong feeling that the choice I made will carry the day," said Tima Nyirongo, 31, a mother of two who voted at a polling station in Blantyre, the southern African country's commercial capital.

Analysts expect a tight presidential race between Mutharika, Deputy President Saulos Chilima and Lazarus Chakwera, who heads opposition group the Malawi Congress Party. There are no reliable opinion polls.

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Chilima, 46, a former telecoms executive, quit the DPP last year and formed his own party, the United Transformation Movement, to run against Mutharika.

He has targeted young voters with a vibrant social media campaign featuring hip-hop videos.

"This country deserves better," Chilima said as he voted with his wife Mary and some aides in Lilongwe, another large city. "We've been at peace for 54 years and counting and we needed to see a much better economy and much happier people."

Malawi won independence from colonial ruler Britain in 1964. Chilima and Chakwera, 64, have both promised to crack down on corruption if elected. Corruption is a major issue at the ballot box after high-profile graft scandals.

One, referred to as "Cashgate," erupted in the months leading up to the 2014 elections and involved the looting of millions of dollars of public funds.

Last year local media reports alleged Mutharika benefited from a US$4 million contract to supply food to the police. Mutharika called the reports "fake news."

Chakwera lost out to Mutharika at the last presidential vote and has formed an alliance with Mutharika's predecessor, Joyce Banda, for this run.

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