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Political Violence Flares in Malawi Ahead of Fresh Polls 

Thousands of suppoters attended political rallies in lead up to the fresh polls. (Lameck Masina/VOA)
Thousands of suppoters attended political rallies in lead up to the fresh polls. (Lameck Masina/VOA)

Malawi's Electoral Commission (MEC) has said it is confident Tuesday's presidential election rerun will be free and fair and won't see a repeat of last year's irregularities, which saw the re-election of President Peter Mutharika annulled.

Mutharika is running against two other candidates, including opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera. Malawi's political analysts say the race is too close to call.

Electoral commission chairperson Chifundo Kachale told reporters in a televised press conference Sunday that preparation for the polls has been smooth.

“We are glad to report that generally, the process went on smoothly, and the commission is grateful to all the stakeholders for the cooperation and harmonious spirits that prevailed during the whole process. Whatever issues may have arisen, were able to be handled harmoniously,” he said.

However, Kachale acknowledged that COVID-19 forced the commission to curtail some of its usual election preparation activities.

“Of course with coming on of COVID-19 pandemic, the commission has been forced to abandon some of the publicity strategies for public outreach like meetings with traditional leaders because these have a tendency to bring together a lot people to one place which can made the observance of physical distancing difficult at time," he said.

The fresh polls come four months after the country’s Constitutional Court annulled last year’s elections over massive irregularities, a decision which the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld in May.

Rights campaigners who were leading street protests against last year’s results say they are confident that Tuesday’s polls will be free, fair and credible.

FILE - Malawi's President Peter Mutharika addresses guests during his inauguration ceremony in Blantyre, Malawi, May 31, 2019.

President Mutharika appointed a new team to the electoral commission early this month, after former chairperson Jane Ansah resigned and mandates expired for the other commissioners.

Charles Kajoloweka is the executive director for a local NGO, the Youth and Society Organization. He spoke to VOA via a messaging application.

“And it is also inspiring that the current commission has the leadership that seems to send a strong message that ‘we are here to manage elections better than before’. And with that confidence we are seeing in the leadership, and the transparency they are demonstrating should be able to have credible elections,” he said.

Although there are three candidates, Tuesday's election is largely between President Mutharika and his main rival Lazarus Chakwera.

FILE - Opposition Malawi Congress Party leader Lazarus Chakwera addresses the protesters in Blantyre, July 25, 2019, where he said he would not relent until justice is done. (Lamek Masina/VOA)

During last year’s disputed polls, Mutharika got 38 percent of the vote, while Chakwera came in a close second with 35 percent.

The Constitutional Court ordered that the winner of Tuesday’s elections must amass more than 50 percent of the valid votes.

This forced President Mutharika, leader of the ruling Democratic Progress Party, to form alliance with the opposition United Democratic Front, whose leader Atupele Muluzi came fourth with five percent of the vote during the annulled polls.

Chakwera, leader of the Malawi Congress Party, formed an alliance with nine other opposition parties, including the United Transformation Movement, whose leader, Vice President Saulos Chilima, got 20 percent of the vote in the annulled election.

Both Chakwera and Mutharika told their supporters during their final campaign rallies Saturday that they are confident of winning this time around.

However, a recent survey by Institute of Public Opinion and Research showed Chakwera with a 20-point lead.

Political analyst Sheriff Kaisi told VOA Monday that the game remains unpredictable because both candidates have massive supporters from rural areas where over 80 percent of the population lives.

“Probably, the upper hand will be the one who will control the regions for example. So we have southern region which has got 13 districts, we have central region with nine districts and finally five districts from northern region. So the one who controls that larger part of the regions, definitely is going to carry the day,” he said.

Mutharika comes from the southern region while Chakwera comes from the central region.

For Tuesday’s election, MEC said it will use last year’s voters roll in which about seven million Malawians registered to vote.