Mr Mutharika (back) hopes to succeed President Muluzi (front)
Malawians are going to the polls to elect a replacement for President Bakili Muluzi, and a new parliament, on Thursday.
What is at stake?
The presidential vote is seen as a test of popularity for the ruling United Democratic Front's (UDF) candidate, Bingu wa Mutharika, currently economic planning and development minister.
President Muluzi hand-picked Mr Mutharika as his heir after parliament a year ago refused to accept a constitutional amendment allowing the president to stand for a third term.
The elections are the third to be held since Mr Muluzi took over from Malawi's long-time autocratic leader, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, in 1994.
Q: Has everything gone smoothly?
The run-up to the elections has been dogged by disputes over voter registration.
The elections, originally slated for 18 May were postponed by two days following a High Court appeal by the main opposition Mgwirizano coalition.
The group said there had been "serious anomalies" in the country's revised electoral roll, which showed a drop of almost 1m in the number of voters when it was published less than two weeks before the original polling date.
The government said the fall was the result of a "clean-up" exercise aimed at eliminating double registrations, but the opposition wanted more time for the new roll to be checked by independent observers.
Q: What's the role of the media?
Opposition candidates and civil rights groups have accused the state media of bias towards the government party and its allies.
A survey in March by the electoral commission's Media Monitoring Unit said state radio and TV were ignoring the opposition while giving the government only positive coverage.
On 13 May, a live programme on the state-controlled Malawi Broadcasting Corporation featuring independent presidential candidate Justin Malewezi was cut short half-way through, reportedly on "orders from above".
But the state media have denied being deliberately biased, blaming perceived shortcomings on a lack of resources and what they say is the opposition's failure to publicize its activities.
Q: What are the rules?
Persons over 18 are entitled to vote, with some 5.7 voters registered, according to the latest figures.
The president and first vice-president are both directly elected on one ticket for five-year terms. After the election, the president must also nominate an opposition member as second vice-president.
MPs are elected in one-member constituencies for five-year terms.
Q: Who are the main presidential candidates?
Bingu wa Mutharika: President Muluzi's choice as successor surprised many, and led to a wave of defections from the UDF.
Gwanda Chakuamba: Leader of the small Republican Party and candidate of the opposition Mgwirizano coalition and a former minister in the Banda government.
Justin Malewezi: The country's first vice-president left the UDF in January. Opted to stand as the race's only independent after flirting with various opposition parties.
Brown Mpinganjira: A former UDF minister, Mr Mpinganjira was sacked in 2000 and now leads the opposition National Democratic Alliance.
John Tembo: The late Mr Banda's former right-hand man, Mr Tembo heads the former ruling party, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
Q: What are the main parties and electoral coalitions?
Over 600 candidates are running for parliament. The following are the main parties:
Alliance for Democracy (Aford): Allied with the UDF and member of the ruling coalition. Its support is concentrated in the northern region.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP): The largest opposition party. Under President Banda, it ruled Malawi from independence in 1964 until the first multiparty elections in 1994. Its heartland is in the central region.
Mgwirizano (Unity) alliance: Created by seven small opposition parties in January 2004, but failed to involve the two largest, the MCP and NDA, after rows over the selection of a presidential candidate.
United Democratic Front (UDF): Founded in 1992 by former allies of Mr Banda, and the ruling party since 1994. Most of support comes from the country's south.
National Democratic Alliance (NDA): Founded in 2000 by Brown Mpinganjira, a minister sacked from the government. Contesting the polls alone after refusing to join Mgwirizano.
Q: Has the campaign been peaceful?
Mostly, except for riots in the country's south on 19 April, in which one opposition supporter was reported killed.
The unrest was sparked by the death in jail of an opposition supporter allegedly arrested for chanting anti-government slogans.
The opposition says the UDF has not done enough for the poor
But most of the fireworks have been on the verbal front, particularly from the government side, and the electoral commission has felt moved to warn against the use of foul language during campaigning.
Q: What are the main issues?
The surprise issue of the election has been Aids, after initial signs that candidates appeared to be ignoring it.
Both President Muluzi and Mr Mpinganjira revealed during the campaign that they have lost family members to the disease.
Over 14% of the country's population is thought to be infected, one of the highest infection rates in the world.
A week before the election, the government announced a programme of free anti-retroviral drugs - a move dismissed by the opposition as an election ploy.
Another key issue has been the economy, with both Mr Mpinganjira and Mr Chakuamba focusing on poverty, food shortages and unemployment.
However, Mr Mutharika has been praising the country's prosperity, and has been presented by President Muluzi as a talented economist who can improve the country's fortunes.
Who is likely to win?
A poll broadcast by state radio suggested the UDF will win outright majorities in both the presidential and the parliamentary votes, despite widespread dissatisfaction with the country's economic performance.
The ruling party is widely expected to benefit from opposition disunity following the refusal of the MCP and NDA to join Mgwirizano.
However, a poll commissioned by an independent radio station had Mr Chakuamba as the likely winner, with Mr Mutharika coming third.
Observers also predict that many voters will cast their ballots along ethnic and regional lines.
BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.