Malawi President Annuls Election Because of ‘Irregularities’

Malawian President Joyce Banda annulled the southern African nation’s elections and set fresh polls for 90 days’ time after saying this week’s process had been marred by “rampant irregularities.”

“I have done this to allow that Malawians are given an opportunity to freely and fairly express their will in choosing their leaders in a free, fair, transparent and credible manner,” she said in a statement e-mailed by her office in Lilongwe, the capital. “I will not participate as a presidential candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections.”

Voting, which lasted for 12 hours after starting at 6 a.m. on May 20, extended into a third day at some polling stations after they ran out of ballot papers and ink. Nineteen voting centers submitted ballots that exceeded the total number registered to vote at those facilities, the electoral commission said yesterday. The People’s Party, led by Banda, uncovered a syndicate in which returning officers at some stations were adding figures to tally sheets, spokesman Ken Msonda said.

Banda, 64, asked the Malawi Electoral Commission to undertake a manual audit of the whole process on May 22. She battled to retain the presidency after alienating allies with a crackdown on corruption. Peter Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party has taken 42 percent of the votes so far, with ballots from 30 percent of the nation’s 4,445 stations counted, MEC Chairman Maxon Mbandera said yesterday.

Constitutional Crisis

Counting is continuing at the National Tally Centre in Blantyre even after Banda called for the halt.

“People have spoken through a fair and credible election,” Mutharika told reporters today in Blantyre, the commercial capital. “There is no way the DPP can rig elections. I have heard nowhere in the world where an opposition rigs an election.” He said Banda’s move was unconstitutional.

The MEC created a “constitutional crisis” by starting to release results without addressing political parties’ concerns, the United Democratic Front’s Atupele Muluzi told reporters today in Blantyre.

The People’s Party has yet to determine whether it will field a candidate in the new election, Steve Nhlane, Banda’s spokesman, said by phone from Lilongwe.

In a separate declaration e-mailed by her office, Banda said there have been “several fraudulent and rampant irregularities” in relation to the election.

EU Appeal

The European Union’s election observation mission to the country appealed for calm following the post-vote developments.

The mission urged the parties to “allow the MEC to finalize its task on tabulation and announcement of results,” and asked that they address complaints through “competent authorities” and mechanisms provided by the nation’s laws, it said in an e-mailed statement.

Twelve candidates contested the presidential elections and about 7.5 million people registered to cast ballots. Opinion polls were inconclusive as to who was likely to win.

About half of Malawi’s 15 million people live on less than $1 a day, according to the International Monetary Fund. The country is Africa’s top exporter of burley tobacco, a low-grade variety of the crop. Limbe Leaf Tobacco Co., a unit of U.S.-Map of Malawi based Universal Corp., Alliance One International Inc. and Japan Topics Tobacco Inc. are among buyers in the nation.

No Power

Banda can’t stop the electoral process through the section of the constitution she said gives her that power, said Edge Kanyongolo, a law lecturer at the University of Malawi.

“What is supposed to be done is to allow the process to go on and if parties have concerns, let them raise them at an appropriate time, and that is after MEC has made an announcement,” he said. “The president has not followed procedure, she cannot nullify the elections because she has no such powers.”

In today’s declaration, Banda said section 88.2 of the constitution allowed her to annul the process.

“The president shall provide executive leadership in the interest of national unity in accordance with this constitution and the laws of the republic,” the section reads, according to a copy of the document on the World Intellectual Property Organization’s website.

The election impasse won’t delay Mota-Engil SGPS SA’s construction of a railway in the country for Brazil’s Vale SA, Mota Chief Executive Officer Gilberto Rodrigues said.

The 237-kilometer (170-mile) line, which links Vale’s Moatize coal mine in the western Tete province of Mozambique, via Malawi, to the port of Nacala, will be completed by the end of August, he said by phone. The events in Malawi also won’t affect Mota’s initial public offering plans for its African business, he said.

“In due course the winner of the election will be announced and the country will return to normality,”Rodrigues said. The people of Malawi “cherish peace,” he said.

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