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Malawi opposition files suit against vote 'robbery'

Lazarus Chakwera lost the election by just 159,000 votes to incumbent Peter Mutharika, who was hurriedly sworn into office the day after the delayed result was issued on Monday.

A supporter of Lazarus Chakwera, leader of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the main Malawi opposition party, holds a sign during a campaign rally at Chowo Primary school in Lilongwe on 12 May 2019, ahead of Malawi's general election. Picture: AFP.

BLANTYRE - Malawi's opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera on Friday rejected the result of last week's presidential election, saying he had launched a court battle to have the vote annulled on the grounds of fraud.

Chakwera lost the election by just 159,000 votes to incumbent Peter Mutharika, who was hurriedly sworn into office the day after the delayed result was issued on Monday.

"I reject the Malawi Electoral Commission's fraudulent presidential results," Chakwera said in a statement.

He said he was filing a high court petition to have the election declared void.

"What we have witnessed in front of our very eyes is not an election, but daylight robbery, a crime against our decency as a people and our democracy as a nation," he said.

Chakwera's Malawi Congress Party (MCP) last weekend obtained a brief court injunction to halt the release of the results, claiming "very glaring irregularities".

The party said that results sheets were covered in correction fluid and some sheets from polling stations far apart bore the same handwriting.

But the injunction was lifted on Monday and Mutharika was declared the winner hours later.

Mutharika was sworn in as president at a sports stadium in Malawi's commercial capital Blantyre on Tuesday - while on Friday, a separate inauguration ceremony was held at the same venue.

"Whether you voted for us or not for us. I am your President. I am the president of all Malawians," Mutharika said after being inaugurated.

He alleged his DPP supporters had suffered a campaign of "violence and political intimidation" since the election.

Chakwera said dozens of civil servants, soldiers and police who were suspected of voting for opposition MCP had been immediately re-deployed to remote rural areas, and that dozens of youths arrested.

Earlier this week, police used teargas to disperse Chakwera supporters who gathered outside the MCP headquarters in Lilongwe, the capital.

EU deputy chief observer Mark Stephens told AFP that long-term observers "acknowledge there were a lot of mistakes that were made in the tallying," but they found not much proof of tampering with the results.

"Our observers have been trying to collect as much detailed information as possible," he said.

NARROW WIN

Mutharika, leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won the presidential election with 38.57% of the vote, against Chakwera on 35.41%. Turnout was 74% of 6.8 million registered voters.

Malawi has a "winner-takes-all" system, and in 2014 Mutharika also narrowly beat Chakwera, a former evangelist.

Mutharika came to power vowing to tackle corruption after the "Cashgate" scandal a year earlier revealed massive looting from state coffers.

But he has faced corruption allegations himself.

Last November, he was forced to return a $200,000 donation from a businessman facing corruption charges in a $3 million contract to supply food to the Malawi police.

Third-placed presidential contender Saulos Chilima has also alleged "serious anomalies" in this year's poll.

Chilima, on 20.24%, was a member of the ruling party but quit last year to form the youth-focused United Transformation Movement while staying on as vice president.

Under Malawi law, the president cannot fire the vice president.

The DPP also won the parliamentary election held on the same day.

Malawi gained independence from colonial ruler Britain in 1964 and was then ruled by Hastings Banda as a one-party state until the first multi-party elections in 1994.

The country, which has a population of 18 million people, has one million adults living with HIV - one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world.

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