Soldiers deployed during Malawi elections

Voters angry over delays and difficulties at polling stations

  Joyce Banda: the incumbent president urged all sides to keep calm. Photograph: Amos Gumulira/AFP/Getty Images

Joyce Banda: the incumbent president urged all sides to keep calm. Photograph: Amos Gumulira/AFP/Getty Images

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Soldiers deployed in Malawi’s commercial capital Blantyre yesterday after voters, angered by delays and mishaps at polling stations in a hotly contested presidential election, torched voting materials and blocked roads.

Incumbent president Joyce Banda, southern Africa’s first female head of state, faces 11 challengers, some of whom had already cried foul in the election run-up, saying they had unearthed plots to skew the ballot.


Vote-rigging
Foreign diplomats say they have seen no credible evidence of vote-rigging, but delays and other difficulties are likely to fuel urban distrust of Ms Banda and her government after a recent $15 million (€10.9 million) corruption scandal.

“There’s no ink. We’re still waiting for the consignment,” one election official told a frustrated crowd waiting for hours to vote at a Blantyre school.

At another polling station in Blantyre, an angry crowd torched election materials when they arrived hours late and in other constituencies they blocked roads with rocks before the military arrived to back up police.

In the absence of reliable opinion polls, most analysts rank People’s Party leader Ms Banda as favourite because of her popularity in rural areas where she has been rolling out development projects and farm subsidies.

After casting her ballot in the southern village of Malemia, Ms Banda urged all sides to keep calm.

“I’m thankful that the campaign period was peaceful and am urging all Malawians to vote peacefully today without any incident or loss of life,” she told reporters.

Ms Banda came to power in the landlocked, impoverished nation two years ago after her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, died in office.


Goodwill
She initially enjoyed huge goodwill from the many who hated Mutharika’s autocratic style, and won the backing of foreign donors and the International Monetary Fund when she pushed through austerity measures, including a sharp devaluation of the kwacha, to stabilise the farming-dependent economy.

But more recently her administration’s reputation has been hit by a $15 million graft scandal. – (Reuters)

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