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Malawi vote result blocked as court battle rumbles on

BLANTYRE: Results from Malawi’s controversial presidential elections will be withheld until a raft of court challenges to the disputed ballot have been resolved, an official said Wednesday.
The outcome in the election was thrown into chaos last week when outgoing President Joyce Banda called the vote “null and void”, saying it was marred by “serious irregularities”.Court orders and injunctions have flown back and forth ever since, as supporters of rival Peter Mutharika urge the release of results that show Banda a clear loser. “The positions have not changed,” said the official who is close to the electoral commission but spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to preliminary results announced last Friday after about a third of the votes had been counted. The official said the unaudited count showed that Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party was in the lead with 36 percent of the vote.
Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party had polled second with 28 percent, while Banda languished in third place with 20 percent. But Banda’s supporters fear that Mutharika, the 74-year-old brother of late former president Bingu wa Mutharika, may be attempting to steal power. 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. The electoral commission has said it would conduct a recount and asked the courts to delay an announcement of the results.
Mutharika’s lawyer Kalekeni Kaphale told reporters outside the country’s high court that judges will hear arguments on Thursday on whether the electoral body has legal grounds for the recount and delay. A decision is expected Friday. Ordinary Malawians were divided on how the country should proceed. “I like the idea of a recount because it will settle all suspicions,” said Margaret Tamale, 36, a street vendor selling bananas outside the tally centre in the commercial capital Blantyre. But Noel Bakuli, a labourer at a mattress manufacturing company, said the idea of a recount “is a waste of time and resources for a poor country like ours.”
Electoral commission chairman Maxon Mbendera has defied a series of court injunctions and vowed to press ahead with the recount. The recount could take up to 30 days and no results would be released before then, he said. Despite the controversy, analysts have praised Malawi’s electoral commission for their handling of the crisis, perhaps the most serious since 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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