BLANTYRE — Campaigning has ended for Malawi’s tightly contested May 21 elections for president, lawmakers, and local leaders. As political parties ready for Tuesday’s polls, Malawi’s Vice President Saulos Chilima, who is challenging President Peter Mutharika, has again raised allegations of possible vote-rigging, while local media report Chilima is involved in an investigation of a suspicious plane.
Malawi’s Electoral Commission on Sunday closed a two-month campaign period that saw mixed views on how parties are performing in the tightly contested race.
United Transformation Movement (UTM) party Secretary General Patricia Kaliati says its candidate, Vice President Saulos Chilima, is confident of winning at Tuesday’s polls, despite attacks on party candidates.
“We are winning because whatever people were doing against us they were just afraid of us. And some of these parties have bases. UTM is a household name, it is for everybody, everybody be it in the south, center east [and] north,” said Kaliati.
After repeated attacks — mostly against opposition party members — Malawi’s electoral commission in February threatened to disqualify any candidate found to be using violence.
Commission Chairperson Jane Ansah told VOA this year’s campaign period was more peaceful than in the previous election.
“We see that the campaign period was very peaceful. The candidates dwelt more on development than castigating each other. There were patches of violence here and there, but they were few compared to past elections,” she said.
Ruling Democratic Progressive Party officials denied being behind the attacks, blaming foolish youth for smearing the party’s image.
DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi told VOA campaigning was overall very peaceful, despite what he called “isolated incidents.”
Speaking on a bad phone line from a village, he said the DPP was confident of winning because it has delivered. There is financial and economic prudence and peaceful discipline, says Dausi. The government under the DPP has stabilized the local currency against the U.S. dollar, he says, and has developed the fields of agriculture, health and education.
Umodzi Party leader John Chisi, one of seven presidential candidates, says he is also sure of victory — despite having a low budget for the campaign.
“I believe that Malawi needs a new change. And I believe, that change can only be brought by us. In Umodzi Party we are clean, and we do not have useless records like our colleagues have,” he said.
President Peter Mutharika, who is seeking a second five-year term, and Chilima have throughout the campaign accused each other of planning to rig the polls.
Even as campaigning closed, fresh political intrigue and allegations surfaced.
Chilima claimed Sunday he has information the government hired a former Zimbabwe security operative to rig the elections.
The government denied the allegation.
Hours later, Malawi Police announced they had detained a private jet and its pilots on May 17.
Local media reports claim Chilima charted the South African plane and it was connected to allegations he plans to rig the elections.
The Malawi Electoral Commission’s Ansah says none of the allegations have been proven.
“Because what we have said is that if someone notices something unusual or notices incidents somewhere, immediately they should report to MEC, but so far none has come up with written allegation on rigging. They are just talking generally,” said Ansah.
Nearly seven million Malawians are expected to vote Tuesday. Official results are expected on May 29.