Blantyre: 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 am on 20 May, extended into a third day at some polling stations after they ran out of ballot papers and ink. Nineteen voting centres submitted ballots that exceeded the total number registered to vote at those facilities, the electoral commission said on Friday. 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 (MEC) to undertake a manual audit of the whole process on 22 May. She battled to retain the presidency after alienating allies with a crackdown on corruption.
Peter Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party has taken 42% of the votes so far, with ballots from 30% of the nation’s 4,445 stations counted, MEC Chairman Maxon Mbandera said on Friday.
Counting is continuing at the National Tally Centre in Blantyre even after Banda called for the halt.
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 on Saturday in Blantyre, the commercial capital.
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.
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 (IMF).
The country is Africa’s top exporter of burley tobacco, a low-grade variety of the crop. Limbe Leaf Tobacco Co., a unit of US-Map of Malawi based Universal Corp., Alliance One International Inc. and Japan Topics Tobacco Inc. are among buyers in the nation.
“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.