Malawi’s neighbour Zambia on Tuesday voted and by Thursday latest official tally showed opposition leader Michael Sata with 639,787 votes against 542,362 for incumbent Rupiah Banda, leader of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) party that has run the former British colony since the end of one-party rule in 1991.
The Election Commission tally was based on 85 out of 150 constituencies.
Despite the strong showing for 74-year-old Sata — nicknamed “King Cobra” for his vicious tongue — the drip-by-drip release of results has sparked rumours of vote rigging, angering Sata supporters in particular.
But whatever the outcome, its impact on Malawi will be great. If Sata wins, Malawi is likely to have a hostile neighbour because four years ago President Mutharika, a close friend of Banda, refused Sata entry into the country.
And if Banda wins and the riots continue, that will be viral and Malawians will more likely protest violently in 2014 if Mutharika’s brother, Peter, wins
Meanwhile, media reports show that youths are in running battles with riot police in the northern Copper Belt towns of Ndola and Kitwe, 250 km north of Lusaka, setting fire to vehicles and markets in the normally peaceful southern African country’s economic heartland, police, residents and local media said.
“They are on the streets with stones and we can only urge them to stop the riotous behaviour,” Copper Belt police chief Martin Malama told Reuters. There were no reports of injuries and it was too early to assess the extent of damage, he added.
Despite the unrest, Election Commission Chairwoman Irene Mambilima said she would not be rushed into releasing results that had not been double- and triple-checked.
“The verification of these results is very important. We ask political parties to tell their supporters to remain peaceful,” she told reporters, adding that the full result should be known by Thursday evening.
The High Court in Lusaka earlier on Thursday banned three private media outlets from speculating on the outcome of the September 20 election, further angering Sata’s young urban support base.