As Malawians go to the polls today, many are regarding the election to be one of the toughest and most unpredictable in the country’s history.
President Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive party (DPP) faces stiff opposition from Lazarus Chakwera, leader of Malawi Congress Party (MCP), who is considered the strongest opposition and interestingly, Saulos Chilima, the country’s Vice President who broke away to form the United Transformation Movement (UTM.)
Tuesday’s election comes with its peculiarities in the county. Incumbent President Mutharika faces Vice President Chilima and the strong former ruling party led by Chakwera. More often than not, a president and his/her vice, combine forces during elections to create a formidable team, strong enough to defeat the opposition and remain in power but the Malawian elections are throwing new realities in what analysts say will test the institutions of democracy in the country to see how fair they are.
President Mutharika handpicked Chilama, an economist, to be his running mate in 2014. Both had been running the affairs of the country together until last year, when Mutharika’s sister in-law, Callista Mutharika, suggested that the president, aged 78, was too old and unfit to seek re-election and that he should make way for his 46-year-old deputy.
Many believe that this was one of the reasons Chilama considered when he decided to break away to form the United Transformation Movement (UTM).
Since after breaking away, Chilama seems to have been using his relative youthfulness to his advantage as his campaign promises have attracted the attention of people between the ages of 18 and 34, a demographic that makes up about 54% of Malawi’s registered voters.
Amongst several other issues, Malawi under Mutharika has been battling unemployment. Chilama has promised to find a lasting solution to this issue, but has been accused of telling people what they want to hear in order to score political points, as regards what is realistically obtainable.
At some point, he was quoted to have promised to create one million jobs in his first year in office, should he win the election.
In order to win over the young voters, Chilama’s wife Mary also joined forces with her husband. Mary Chilama rapped and danced in a music video recently, using certain colloquial phrases that young people are familiar with. At certain times, she was seen dressing like the youths and images of her have been used to front campaign adverts targeted at female voters.
In the cause of the entire campaign, there have been accusations and counter-accusations between the president and his vice mainly about electoral fraud. Despite these hot exchanges, the campaigns have been largely peaceful.
Malawi’s next president will be elected by way of First-past-the-post system (FPTP), otherwise known as ‘winner takes all’, so there will be no second round. The whole of Africa and the world will be watching see how this goes.