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Malawian Voters Prepare to Choose President, Parliament

Voters in Malawi are preparing to go to the polls Tuesday to elect a president and parliament. President Bingu wa Mutharika is seeking a second term, but faces a coalition backed by his predecessor Bakili Muluzi.

Supporters of Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika sang praises for his Democratic Progressive Party at one of the final campaign rallies before Tuesday's vote.

His main rival in the election, John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party, held similar rallies. Mr. Tembo was endorsed by the leader of the United Democratic Front of former President Bakili Muluzi after Mr. Muluzi was denied a bid for a third term by Malawi's Constitutional Court.

Nearly six million voters have been registered for Tuesday's elections. Seven candidates are running for the country's top job while more than 1,000 candidates, including 200 women, are vying for the 193 seats in parliament.

The Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Anastanzia Msosa, sought to reassure voters after allegations surfaced that efforts were underway to rig the vote.

"I would say we are ready for the elections by just assuring the political parties and stakeholders that we are ready with the election," said Msosa.

Businessman Mabvuto Gondwe says Mr. Mutharika, an economist and former international civil servant, has boosted agriculture and the economy, which has grown by an average of seven percent in recent years.

"Malawi needs a leader who is going to revamp our agriculture system and Bingu wa Mutharika has done that," said Gondwe. "For example he introduced the fertilizer subsidy. I think he qualifies to be a president and I am going to vote for him."

Mr. Mutharika was originally elected as the candidate of Mr. Muluzi's United Democratic Front, UDF. But he broke away to form his own party which led to a political feud between the two leaders.

The UDF tried unsuccessfully to impeach Mr. Mutharika in parliament while the Mutharika government has charged Mr. Muluzi with diverting more than $10 million of donor funds during his presidency.

Mr. Muluzi has thrown his support behind John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party. But Mr. Tembo's candidacy has been controversial because of his association with Malawi's first President Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

Mr. Banda ruled with an iron hand for 28 years before being defeated in the country's first multi-party elections in 1994.

Farmer Merick Chisale, speaking in the local Tumbuka language, supports Tembo.

He says he will vote for John Tembo because he is an experienced politician and he believes he is a changed man.

Election officials say they expect to release the results by Thursday.