Malawi Elections: President takes early lead but…

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Malawian incumbent leader President Bingu wa Mutharika has taken an early lead on Wednesday in the vote count from the Southern African country’s presidential election.

Tunrout in yesterday’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Malawi has been described as generally peaceful and higher than previous polls, reports say.

Various online news publications report that voters started queueing before polling stations opened at 6am in an election that observers have said was too close to call.

The presidential election pits the incumbent President Bingu Wa Mutharika — who is seeking a second term in office — against six other candidates.

News agencies quoted Mutharika saying the election was a “very important moment for Malawians”, adding that he would retire from politics if he lost the poll.

The incumbent’s main challenge is expected to come from opposition leader John Tembo, who has the backing of former president Bakili Muluzi, who himself was barred from contesting for a third term after the country’s courts at the weekend ruled that his participation would be unconstitutional.

The first results from the central region, traditionally an opposition stronghold, showed Wa Mutharika had 845 000 votes with 254 000 for Tembo.

A handful of results from polling stations in the capital, Lilongwe, showed the president had an even bigger lead there. A parliamentary vote was also held on Tuesday, reports say.

Official results have been scheduled for midday, but counting has been slow.

Some 6,5 million Malawians, a little over half the population, were eligible to elect a president and 193-member legislature.

Observer missions from the European Union and the Commonwealth of mostly former British colonies described the voting as calm and without incident.

The election is a test of political stability in largely peaceful Malawi after a protracted power struggle between Wa Mutharika and Muluzi prompted a failed impeachment bid and allegations of a coup plot, unnerving Western donors.

However, reports say police raided a private radio station owned by Muluzi and arrested three staffers before polls opened.

“The issue is under investigation,” said police spokesperson Willie Mwaluka, who said the raid on Joy Radio was conducted at 4am on Tuesday, two hours before polling stations opened.

Joy Radio has been the main campaign weapon of the opposition ahead of the elections.

Police confiscated a tape containing a satirical programme that had just been broadcast.

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