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Malawi vote recount may take two months - election official

Source: Reuters - Mon, 26 May 2014 14:17 GMT
Author: Reuters
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Peter Mutharika (C), former Foreign Minister and brother to the late President of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, leaves the Malawi court after he was granted bail in Lilongwe March 14, 2013 REUTERS/Mabvuto Banda
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* Banda's decree to annul vote overturned by High Court

* Main opposition rival led Banda in preliminary results

* Delay angers voters, may further displease donors

By Mabvuto Banda

LILONGWE, May 26 (Reuters) - Malawi is only likely to have an official result of its chaotic May 20 election in two months, as the Malawi Electoral Commission embarks on a process to manually count the votes, a senior official said on Monday.

The High Court on Saturday overturned President Joyce Banda's decree to annul the election that had raised the spectre of violence in the impoverished southern African country.

Banda, southern Africa's first female head of state, has alleged massive fraud and rampant irregularities in the election in which 11 opposition parties are seeking to unseat her and her People Party.

Preliminary results gave her main rival Peter Mutharika of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party a lead, before the commission (MEC) suspended further announcements.

"The commission has agreed with the parties that an implementation plan for the recount of the ballot papers be done this week," Commissioner Chimkwita Phiri told Reuters.

"We envisage that the vote audit may take us not more than two months to conclude."

Banda's order to scrap the elections and hold a new vote within 90 days triggered protests and was challenged by the electoral authority and Mutharika who said she had no legal grounds. Banda had indicated she would not be a candidate in new elections, to guarantee a credible outcome.

Her thwarted move was backed by the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the rejuvenated movement of late dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda who ran Malawi with an iron first for 30 years after independence from Britain.

"We have filed complaints and we are ready for a fresh election even today ... we also do not agree with the 30 percent official results that the MEC has released so far because of rampant irregularities," party vice president Richard Msowoya told a news conference in the capital Lilongwe.

The smaller opposition United Democratic Front also wants a recount or a new election, citing rigging in the initial ballot, which was plagued by a plethora of problems including late delivery of voting materials and ballot papers being sent to the wrong places.

The chaos has angered the electorate, and will further displease foreign donors whose approval of Banda, installed as president two years ago after the death in office of Bingu wa Mutharika, has waned after a corruption scandal hit her administration.

"Its very clear that the electoral commission has caused this mess and they need time to rectify it," Malawian civil servant Innocent Chikoti said on Monday.

"But then again, I fear the cost of doing this, do we have the money and are donors going to help fund the recount or a fresh election?" (Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa and Alison Williams)

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