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Malawi votes in presidential election rerun

A woman casts her ballot during the current election in Malawi at the Malembo polling station in Lilongwe
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Today, polls opened in Malawi in a hotly contested presidential vote. This is the second election in just over a year, after incumbent Peter Mutharika’s re-election was annulled over rigging.

Polling stations opened at 6am (04:00 GMT) and will last for 12 hours. Some 6.6 million people are registered to vote.

The election is much anticipated after the Constitutional Court early this year ruled that the May 2019 vote, won narrowly by Mutharika, was fraught with “grave and widespread irregularities”, including the use of correction fluid on results sheets. It ordered new elections be held within 150 days of its February ruling.

The landmark verdict, which reverberated across African politics, made Malawi the second country south of the Sahara to have presidential poll results set aside, after Kenya in 2017.

Malawi new 50-percent-plus-one system

The election is practically a two-horse race between the president and his main rival Lazarus Chakwera. Chakwera lost the May 2019 election by 159,000 votes. Mutharika won with 38.5 percent of the ballots against Chakwera’s 35 percent.

On Tuesday, a candidate will have to garner more than 50 percent of the votes to be declared the winner. This is a new threshold welcomed by the Public Affairs Committee, an influential quasi-religious civic group.

“This election is unique. First, this election is born out of a court ruling. the election will also follow the 50-percent-plus-one system,” the group said in a statement.

Chakwera also enjoys the support of nine political parties in his bid to unseat the incumbent president.

Related: Malawi Court Rejects President’s Election Appeal

A new electoral commission was appointed on June 8, with Chifundo Kachale replacing Jane Ansah as chairman.

Last week, Kachale promised “the highest commitment of myself and the entire commission to deliver a credible election whose results will be acceptable by all stakeholders”.

Gift Trapence of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, which led months-long countrywide protests against last year’s election results, has high hopes this time around.

“Our expectation is that this election will be credible and fair enough to Malawians,” Trapence said, while warning: “We will remain vigilant.”

Voting amid the coronavirus Pandemic

The election rerun is taking place amid the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has killed 11 people and infected at least 730 in the country of 18 million.

The electoral commission has however provided hand-washing facilities at polling centres to guard against the spread of COVID-19.