Malawi votes in tight three-way election

Voting has begun in Malawi's Presidential Election.

LILONGWE - Voters in Malawi cast ballots on Tuesday in a closely fought election, with President Peter Mutharika battling to hold off two serious rivals in a race that has focused on corruption allegations and economic development.

Mutharika, who has been in power since 2014, faces opposition from his own deputy Saulos Chilima and former Baptist preacher Lazarus Chakwera.

"I am happy that I have voted," said Mutharika, leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after leaving a polling station in Thyolo town outside Blantyre. 

"There are very long lines but I am encouraging everyone to vote because it is the people who will decide."

His campaign for a second term has highlighted his record of improving roads and electricity infrastructure across the southeastern African country.

Under Mutharika, inflation has fallen from 23 percent to below nine percent, but still just 11 percent of the population has access to electricity.

The election is the first since a new law forced parties to declare large donations and banned the once-common practice by candidates of giving cash handouts.

READ: Malawian president says corruption reports 'fake news'

Food shortages, graft scandals and ballooning external debt have hurt Mutharika's popularity while in office.

He faces a strong challenge from Chakwera, leader of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), who came a narrow second in the 2014 election.

"We mounted a very formidable campaign unlike any other party and unlike any other year," Chakwera said after voting in Lilongwe as crowds scrambled to see him.

"We are positive about the result."

Mutharika's other opponent, Chilima, quit the ruling party last year to form the youth-focused United Transformation Movement, while staying on as vice president.

Under Malawi law, the president cannot fire the vice president.

More than half of the 6.8-million registered voters are under 35.

Early results are expected on Wednesday evening or Thursday.