Malawi: Protect the vote, or the voter? In African elections, no easy choice. | Ryan Lenora Brown and Josephine Chinele/CSMonitor
The crowd gathered in Kasungu, stretched down its main street and bunched around a small stage. Some wore sky-blue skirts and dresses emblazoned with the face of Peter Mutharika, the country’s president. Others waved handkerchiefs or flyers stamped with four ears of corn – the logo of his political party, the Democratic Progressive Party. Shoulder to shoulder, they jostled for a view of his black SUV. As it parted the crowd, they cheered and ululated. Soon he was onstage, promising in a booming voice that his second term would bring a raft of good fortune to this town in central Malawi. It looks like a scene from another era, before social distancing made gatherings like this a near-impossibility in many parts of the world. But this rally was filmed in mid-June, as Malawi entered the final run-up to its election – held today. Across the world, the COVID-19 crisis has introduced a new wrinkle into the already complicated business of holding an election. Traditional campaigning, after all, is built on closeness – handshaking and posing for photos and the show of strength that is a mass rally. And voting itself often forces people to scrunch together in queues, touching the same polling-place door handles and touch screens and ink pads. How do you do that when experts say touch and breath could spread a deadly disease?