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Malawi launches vote count after tense campaign

Millions of Malawians cast ballots on Tuesday in an election seen as a test for President Peter Mutharika who critics accuse of corruption and cronyism.

A supporter of Lazarus Chakwera, leader of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the main Malawi opposition party, holds a sign during a campaign rally at Chowo Primary school in Lilongwe on 12 May 2019, ahead of Malawi's general election. Picture: AFP.

BLANTYRE - Vote counting slowly got under way in Malawi on Wednesday after closely contested general elections which local observers declared largely free and fair.

Millions of Malawians cast ballots on Tuesday in an election seen as a test for President Peter Mutharika who critics accuse of corruption and cronyism.

Mutharika, in office since 2014, squared off against a number of challenges, including his own deputy Saulos Chilima and former Baptist preacher Lazarus Chakwera.

About 18 hours after polling closed, the electoral commission said only 20% of polling stations had reported results.

Jane Ansah, chairwoman of the Malawi Electoral Commission, told reporters there had been transmission problems.

"The first result was received just after midnight," said added.

Local election observers declared the elections free, fair, credible and peaceful.

The National Initiative for Civic Education, which deployed more than 5,000 monitors, said in a statement that despite isolated incidents of scuffles and disputes, election day was largely peaceful.

Foreign observer missions are expected to give their verdicts on Thursday.

There are however concerns that tensions might rise as substantive results are announced.

Nandin Patel, a political science lecturer at the Catholic University in Malawi, described the election as "very contentious" and "very close".

Malawi has a "winner takes all" system.

In 2014, Mutharika won with just 36% of the vote.

He came to power in the aid-dependent country vowing to tackle corruption after the "Cashgate" scandal erupted a year earlier, revealing massive looting from state coffers.

But his government has been dogged by several high-profile cases of corruption and nepotism.

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