Malawi vote enters second day after riots

Voting in Malawi’s heated elections spilled into a second day on Wednesday (21/05/2014) after riots sparked by the late opening of polling stations marred a vote seen as a test of President Joyce Banda’s scandal-tainted rule.

The military was deployed Tuesday when irate voters burnt poll stations amid allegations of rigging when some bureaus opened 10 hours late.

Late openings and delivery of ballot papers disrupted voting in one percent of the more than 4,000 centres on Tuesday.

But just 13 polling stations in the south and central regions were due to open from 0800 GMT on Wednesday.

In the southern African nation’s commercial capital Blantyre voting was again delayed on Wednesday because ballot papers had not been printed on time, according to an AFP correspondent.

Election chief Maxon Mbendera acknowledged it was an “embarrassing situation”, but denied any intention to disenfranchise individuals.

Some 7.5 million people are eligible to vote for a president, lawmakers and local government councillors in the fifth democratic polls since decades of one-party rule ended in 1994.

Twelve candidates are standing in the presidential race but pollsters suggest up to four frontrunners.

Banda, 64, began her term as a darling of the West, inheriting the presidency when her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika died unexpectedly in 2012.

She was feted as one of Africa’s rare women leaders, but her government has since been ensnared in a 30 million corruption scandal that has seen foreign donors freeze vital aid.

Banda has claimed the credit for uncovering the so-called “Cashgate” scandal, which saw aid money siphoned into top government officials pockets, but critics say the funds went into her party’s war-chest.

She nevertheless has earned respect for resuscitating a moribund economy and – to an extent – restoring the confidence of foreign donors.

Analysts say she stands a chance to win despite stiff competition from her hardline predecessor’s brother Peter Mutharika.

Another of Banda’s closest rivals is political novice and former cleric Lazarus Chakwera, 59. His Malawi Congress Party led the country after independence from Britain for three decades under dictator Kamuzu Banda, but says it has since been “rebranded”. – AFP

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