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Election boss urges end to Malawi vote chaos

Hundreds of residents from the Ndirande township queue to vote in Blantyre, Malawi/AFP

Hundreds of residents from the Ndirande township queue to vote in Blantyre, Malawi/AFP

BLANTYRE, May 27 – 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 declared 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 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 percent of the results had been recorded and around 100 of the 275 registered complaints still had to be addressed.

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 Center for Justice and Human Rights.

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– ‘People have spoken’ –

Opposition leader Peter Mutharika, who on Friday with about a third of the votes counted led with 42 percent 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.

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.

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