Malawi's Mutharika re-elected amid vote-rigging claims

Malawi's electoral body had stopped releasing results updates on Friday after receiving 147 complaints from parties that had contested Tuesday's vote. (AFP)

Malawi's electoral body had stopped releasing results updates on Friday after receiving 147 complaints from parties that had contested Tuesday's vote. (AFP)

Malawian President Peter Mutharika has won re-election by a narrow margin, official results showed Monday, holding on to power in a ballot marked by fraud allegations.

The final count of last week’s vote was released after a court battle, with opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera obtaining a temporary injunction to bar the release of results over alleged vote-rigging.

Shortly after the interdict was lifted, the Malawi Electoral Commission said Mutharika, who heads the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won 38.57% of the vote with Chakwera, of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), on 35.41%.

Less than 159 000 votes separated the two men, it said. Turnout was 74% of 6.8-million registered voters.

“This is the decision of the majority of Malawian voters and we must accept it with grace and generosity,” said Jane Ansah, head of the electoral commission.

DPP spokesman Nicholas Dausi said: “Justice has prevailed, the people have spoken.”

But the result is likely to trigger criticism from Chakwera, who had warned of attempts to rig the election and said his party’s own count showed him ahead.

The electoral body had stopped releasing results updates on Friday after receiving 147 complaints from parties that had contested Tuesday’s vote.

Chakwera’s MCP went to court over what it claimed were irregularities in results from 10 of the country’s 28 districts.

Opposition parties have complained that numbers on many vote count sheets were altered using correction fluid.

MCP spokesman Eisenhower Mkaka said on Saturday the party had turned to the courts because of “very glaring irregularities” on results sheets.

Some documents showed “the same handwriting coming from different polling stations which are miles apart,” he said, adding there was “a lot of tippexing”.

“What we are seeing is a fraudulent election, the result has been tampered with,” he claimed.

A disputed outcome 

Another opposition presidential contender, Malawi’s vice-president Saulos Chilima, called at the weekend for results to be annulled over “serious anomalies” reported during the count.

The European Union observer mission has described the election campaign as “well-managed, inclusive, transparent and competitive”.

But it said tension ahead of polling day “was not helped by various claims of ‘rigging’”.

Malawi has a “winner-takes-all” system, and in 2014 Mutharika won his first term with 36% of the vote.

He came to power vowing to tackle corruption after the “Cashgate” scandal a year earlier revealed massive looting from state coffers.

But Mutharika has faced corruption allegations himself.

Last November, he was forced to return a $200 000 donation from a businessman facing corruption charges in a $3-million contract to supply food to the Malawi police.

At his final campaign rally, Mutharika told supporters in Blantyre: “My priorities for this country are development and building skills.”

Third-placed Chilima, on 20.24%, was a member of the ruling party but quit 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.

The DPP also won the parliamentary election held on the same day.

Former evangelist Chakwera, 64, in 2014 also came a close second to Mutharika.

Malawi won independence from colonial ruler Britain in 1964, and was then ruled by Hastings Banda as a one-party state until the first multi-party elections in 1994.

Jack McBrams

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