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Election boss urges end to Malawi vote chaos

27 May 2014, 11:50

Blantyre - Malawi's poll watchdog pressed ahead with a troubled vote recount Tuesday, in a bid to show the country can resolve a deep political crisis constitutionally and save its young democracy.

Since the chaotic vote a week ago President Joyce Banda has attempted to declare the vote "null and void" and court orders and injunctions have flown back and forth.

She has claimed the vote was marred by "serious irregularities" and called for a new ballot within 90 days, saying she would not take part.

But it is not clear she has the constitutional power to make such a move and a court ordered the vote count to continue.

Electoral commission chair Maxon Mbendera late on Monday urged Malawians to stay calm, saying a full audit could take up to 30 days.

"Allow me to appeal to the country, it is time to build this nation," said Mbendera. "We must find the way forward in this delicate situation."

Mbendera said 95% of the results had been recorded and around 100 of the 275 registered complaints still had to be addressed.

"People have spoken"

In some places the number of votes cast is reportedly greater than the number of voters.

Mbendera said the results for the disputed centres had been isolated and "we are examining them closely to check for possible errors".

Analysts have praised Malawi's electoral commission and other institutions for their handling of the crisis, perhaps the most serious since Malawi's 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 Centre for Justice and Human Rights.

Opposition leader Peter Mutharika, who on Friday with about a third of the votes counted led with 42% of the unofficial tally, has opposed a recount.

On Saturday Mutharika avoided claiming victory but said the "people have spoken and this was a free and credible election".

Banda's supporters believe the vote was far from fair, and fear the 74-year-old brother of late former president Bingu wa Mutharika may be attempting to steal power.

Treason charges

Peter Mutharika 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.

When voting was scheduled to begin last Tuesday the opening of some polling stations was delayed by as much as 10 hours because voting materials did not arrive, prompting isolated violence that saw at least one centre touched.

The United Nations, European Union and United States have called for calm.

"We join the African Union and the international community in calling for calm as the Malawi Election Commission works to tally the vote and to resolve any challenges or complaints," State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement.

But while the army was deployed to ensure tensions did not spill over, instances of violence have been isolated.

Whatever the declared result it is likely that there will be more legal wrangling, according to Dimpho Motsamai, an analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies.

Still Motsamai said the current period in Malawi represented a "worrisome period of uncertainty".

"Cashgate" scandal

The election imbroglio is unlikely to help Malawi's dire economic problems.

After taking office Banda oversaw the devaluation of the kwacha currency by 50%, the easing of foreign exchange restrictions, and the raising of fuel prices and cutting of subsidies.

That helped restore an IMF credit line, but the country remains overly dependent on agriculture and foreign aid to survive.

But since then a "Cashgate" scandal, which saw corrupt officials steel around $30m of state funds has seen vital foreign aid frozen.

Pop diva Madonna has even weighed in on the election amid a long-running spat over her charity work in the country.

The superstar, who adopted two children from the southern African nation, accused Banda of corruption and of failing its people.

"I am so sad to see that because of the actions of their president Malawians will continue to suffer," the American singer said.

"In my philanthropic work I have seen the depths of corruption in Malawi's government. I can only hope that change will come, Malawians deserve so much better."



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