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Malawi Votes in Democratic Test

June 15, 1999

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) _ Lines of thousands of people snaked around city blocks and across school fields today in Malawi as voters turned out in force to show support for the southeast African nation’s fledgling democracy.

Election officials and monitors said threats of violence appeared not to have disrupted voting, and officials at polling stations predicted voter turnout of up to 80 percent at main polling stations in Blantyre, the commercial capital.

The national ballot is just Malawi’s second democratic election since independence in 1964. President Bakili Muluzi _ who won the first multiparty vote in 1994 _ faces four opposition candidates in his bid for re-election. Eleven parties are vying for control of the 193-seat parliament.

Results were expected by Friday.

Opposition groups had threatened violence, alleging unfair voter registration.

But as voting at 6,400 stations wound up, Chief Election Officer Roosevelt Gondwe said his office received no reports of disruptions, though some areas still had to make contact with provincial officials.

Ted Sneed, an American coordinator of 90 independent election monitors from Africa, Europe and the United States, described voting as ``fairly orderly″ in the administrative capital, Lilongwe.

``We won’t have a national perspective on the conduct of the election until our people come in from the rural areas,″ he said.

The 1994 election ended three decades of iron-fisted rule under dictator Kamuzu Banda, who led the former British colony of Nyasaland to independence as Malawi. Banda died in 1997.

Muluzi, voting at his home village of Kapoloma, 140 miles east of Blantyre, predicted victory for his ruling party. But said in the event of a reversal at the polls, ``I will accept defeat because I defend democracy.″

The bulk of the legislature seats are expected to be won by Muluzi’s ruling United Democratic Front and the two largest opposition groups, the Malawi Congress Party founded by Banda, and the Alliance for Democracy party of Chakufwa Chihana, a former labor leader.

According to the United Nations, the narrow, mountainous, Portugal-sized country is one of the world’s poorest. About 80 percent of Malawians survive mostly on subsistence agriculture and 60 percent live below the U.N.-designated poverty line. Some 40 percent are illiterate.

Update hourly