Malawi goes to polls amidst corruption and other issues

Come Tuesday, May 21, Malawi will go to polls to elect a president who will occupy the office for the next five years. However, if the voters do not consider their most pressing issues like corruption, poverty and the downward spiralling economy which have plagued the country for a long time, the country’s position as one of the poorest countries in the world would remain unchanged.

About 6.7 million people are registered and anticipating to vote in the elections that also will decide 193 parliamentary seats and local councils. The elections will be the fifth elections since the country returned to a multiparty democracy in 1994.

There are seven president hopefuls, however, just three including the incumbent president Peter Mutharika have a chance of winning the election. There are no runoff elections in the country and whoever receives the most votes, even if the share is well below 50 percent, will become the president.

With just a few hours to go, the candidates are attempting to woo voters in what many say are country’s most highly contested elections since the start of multiparty. Corruption, the killing of Albinos and the need for economic growth are at the forefront of their campaigns.

When President Mutharika came to power, he vowed to tackle corruption that has impoverished Malawians. Unfortunately, instead of tackling it, he was caught in its web. He was caught up in a major scandal when the country’s anti-graft agency implicated him in a multi-million-dollar contract to supply food to the police. He shrugged off accusations of a $200,000 bribe, saying he “was convinced it was an honest donation” to his party.

Poverty in Malawi has been at critical levels for decades. Of the 15.9 million Malawians, about 12 million are living below the international poverty line ($1.25 a day) and approximately 14.3 million live on less than $2.00 a day.

Another critical issue in this year’s election is albinism. There have been attacks on the over 15,000 people living with albinism in Malawi as it is believed that their body parts fetch a lot of money. Body parts of an albino can cost from $2,000 for a limb to $75,000 for a full set of body parts. Even in death, the business pays. The corpse of albinos still fetch a great deal of money that their graves have to be sealed with concrete.

Although the issue of albinism only affects a few, however, many politicians in Malawi believe in the superstition that albinos have magic powers that create wealth. If these kind of people are elected into power, what hope do those who have been marginalized either because of their skin colour or their level of poverty.

Observers say they are unable to predict who will win. Political analyst Sherrif Kaisi says the outcome depends on the rural areas, where more than 80 percent of Malawians live. “This is because people in town, you can see even the numbers on those who registered, they are not much convincing numbers like those in the villages,” Kaisi said.

Results are expected by May 29, however, the results of the presidential vote in Malawi has always been challenged in court and chances are that this year would be no different.