Malawi Says Mutharika Wins Disputed Presidential Election

Peter Mutharika was named the winner of Malawi’s disputed May 20 presidential elections amid allegations of vote rigging and fraud by his rivals.

Mutharika won 36 percent of the votes cast, Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party got 28 percent and incumbent President Joyce Banda 20 percent, according to results released late yesterday by the Malawi Electoral Commission. The Congress Party doesn’t recognize the results and will challenge them, Jesse Kabwila, a spokesman, told reporters. Mutharika was sworn in today, the BBC reported.

Earlier, Malawi’s top court ruled that the release of the results of voting that ended May 22 couldn’t be delayed beyond yesterday. Various political parties have called for a recount and cited irregularities.

Mutharika, 74, served in the cabinet of his brother Bingu wa Mutharika, who drew international criticism following a violent crackdown against opponents prior to his death in office in April 2012. His campaign centered on improving food security in a nation where about half the population survives on less than $1 a day.

The brother of the former president was “deeply involved” in mismanagement that prevailed during his brother’s rule and tried to succeed him in violation of the constitution, which decreed that the post should go to Banda, who was deputy president when he died, said Gary van Staden, a political analyst at NKC Independent Economists.

He studied law at the University of London and Yale University in the 1960s, graduating with a doctorate at the age of 29, and worked as a law professor at universities in Tanzania, Ethiopia and the U.S., according to his party’s website. He was elected to parliament in 2009 and served stints as minister of justice, education, and foreign affairs.

Protesters Killed

Bingu wa Mutharika initially won plaudits for ending years of intermittent food shortages and reviving the economy. His reputation soured in July 2011, when his security forces killed 19 people protesting fuel shortages and rising food costs. Opposition to his rule continued until he fell ill and died.

Banda was expelled from the DPP in 2011 after refusing to endorse Peter Mutharika as its vice president candidate for this year’s election, and subsequently formed the People’s Party.

Her odds of retaining the presidency widened after she alienated key allies by firing her cabinet in October and asking international investigators to probe allegations that as much as 30 percent of state funds were being pilfered. She also battled to convince the electorate that her administration wasn’t complicit in the scandal, which prompted donors who fund 40 percent of the state budget to suspend aid last year.

‘Best Hope’

“Banda made a lot of mistakes but I think overall she was Malawi’s best hope,” Van Staden said. “Donors were holding off to see what happened in the election before resuming aid. It’s going to be very difficult for them to come back with Mutharika at the helm.”

The Malawi Congress Party sought to block the announcement of the election results until a recount had been undertaken, while Banda tried to annul the election and have a rerun in 90 days, a move that was blocked by the court.

Malawi is Africa’s top exporter of burley tobacco, a low-grade variety of the crop. Limbe Leaf Tobacco Co., a unit of U.S.-based Universal Corp., Alliance One International Inc. and Japan Tobacco Inc. are among buyers of the nation’s crop.

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