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29 May 2014 10:20
A high court is expected to rule on whether the Malawi Electoral Commission should be allowed to conduct a recount of the ballots. (AFP)
The results of Malawi’s controversial presidential elections could be announced on Friday if a high court rules out a recount, the country’s electoral commission said on Wednesday.
The outcome of the election was thrown into chaos last week when President Joyce Banda called the vote “null and void”, saying it was marred by “serious irregularities”.
In some places the number of votes cast is reportedly greater than the number of voters.
Court orders and injunctions have flown back and forth ever since, as supporters of Banda’s main rival Peter Mutharika urged the release of results as partial counts showed Banda to be a clear loser.
A high court on Thursday is expected to rule on whether the Malawi Electoral Commission should be allowed to conduct a recount of the ballots.
“The commission is preparing to announce its determination of the results of these elections on Friday 30 May, or as the court may direct,” said Maxon Mbendera, the chair of the commission.
Abide by the court orderMbendera told a news conference that an initial count of all the ballots had been completed.
The commission had asked for a 30-day delay in releasing the results to enable it to carry out a recount after allegations of rigging, but Mbendera said the electoral body would take its cue from the court’s decision.
“We shall abide by the court order,” he said.
“I appeal for peace and calm whatever the outcome at the high court,” he added.
Earlier, an official who is close to the electoral commission spoke to Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity and said the unaudited count showed that Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party was in the lead with 36% of the vote.
Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party had polled second with 28%, while Banda languished in third place with 20%.
Banda’s supporters fear that Mutharika, the 74-year-old brother of late former president Bingu wa Mutharika, may be attempting to steal power.
SuspicionMutharika already faces treason charges for attempting to conceal his brother’s death in office two years ago, as part of an alleged plot to stop Banda – then vice-president – from assuming power as directed by the Constitution.
Mutharika’s lawyer, Kalekeni Kaphale, told reporters outside the country’s high court that judges will hear arguments on Thursday on whether the electoral body has legal grounds for the recount and delay before presenting a decision on Friday.
Malawians appear to be divided on how the country should proceed.
“I like the idea of a recount because it will settle all suspicions,” said Margaret Tamale (36), a street vendor selling bananas outside the tally centre in the commercial capital Blantyre.
But Noel Bakuli, a labourer at a mattress manufacturing company, said the idea of a recount “is a waste of time and resources for a poor country like ours”. The chief election officer, Willie Kalonga, has indicated that the recount, which could take up to 30 days, may cost the impoverished country around $4.2-million.
“We would have to ask government to fund us,” he said.
Despite the controversy, analysts have praised Malawi’s electoral commission for their handling of the crisis, perhaps the most serious since independence in 1963.
“Despite the political twists and turns, the drama, and the general public uneasiness, I think Malawi has demonstrated, again, that it has strong, respected and impartial institutions,” said Jeffrey Smith of the Washington-based Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
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