Saturday, 24 May 2014

BREAKING NEWS: Joyce Banda nullifies Malawi’s presidential election

Malawi’s election was plunged into political crisis on Saturday when Joyce Banda, the incumbent president, said she was nullifying the vote because of “rampant irregularities.”

She said there should be a new poll in 90 days, adding that she would not contest that election. But it was not clear whether she had the right under the constitution to declare the election void.

“It’s a political crisis … there are questions on whether Banda has the power to annul the elections, remember she was a candidate herself so she’s an interested party,” said Boniface Dulani, a politics lecturer. “Initially, the people at the election centre were told to stop counting, but the chairperson that they will go ahead with the counting and announce the results.”
BREAKING NEWS: Joyce Banda nullifies Malawi’s presidential election
Maxon Mbendera, chair of the electoral commission, told Reuters that as far as he was aware, only the commission had the powers to nullify the results, not the president.

Malawians voted on Tuesday in presidential, parliamentary and local elections that were touted as being among country’s most fiercely contested. But the counting process has been marred by complaints and technical problems, with voting still taking in place in some places days after Tuesday’s vote.

The electoral commission released provisional results late on Friday showing that Ms Banda, who leads the People’s Party, was trailing in second behind her rival, Peter Mutharika.

Based on votes from about a third polling stations, the commission said Mr Mutharika, brother of former President Bingu wa Mutharika, had garnered 42 per cent of the vote, while Ms Banda had 23 per cent.

“I want to give Malawians an opportunity to choose a candidate of their choice in a free and fair manner,” Ms Banda told reporters. “When elections are to be held again, I will be stepping aside.”

Mr Mutharika countered that there was no legal basis for stopping the election.

“We have become a laughing stock and the sooner it ends, the better for us,” Mutharika told a news conference. ”I appeal to the president to ask people to be calm and I hope she abandons the path she is taking because we don’t need to take this country on the path of violence.”

Ms Banda took office in April 2012 after the sudden death of Bingu wa Mutharika, under whom she had served as vice-president.

Initially she enjoyed a wave of goodwill as Mutharika’s last years in office were tarnished by protests against his rule, amid crippling fuel and foreign exchange shortages and complaints that he was becoming increasingly autocratic, while soft on corruption.

Ms Banda brought in sweeping changes, including removing the currency’s peg to the dollar and easing foreign exchange restrictions, while repealing some unpopular laws. Her reforms led to Westerns donors resuming much needed aid to the poor tobacco producing southern African nation.

But a huge corruption scandal – known as ‘Cashgate’ and which involves the misappropriation of millions of dollars of state funds – has severely tarnished the image of her administration and cast a dark cloud over her credibility.

Western donors, which provide about 40 per cent of the budget, have suspended about $150m in aid. Meanwhile, economic growth has been sluggish and the currency’s devaluation triggered a rise in prices that has hurt many ordinary Malawians.

The economy is another major concern in a country where half the 16m population live in poverty. Economic growth, which averaged 7 per cent annually in the four years to 2010, slumped to 1.9 per cent in 2012.

Peter Mutharika leads the Democratic Progressive Party, his brother’s party. But he has also courted controversy and was accused of being part of a group of officials plotted to overthrow Ms Banda’s government after she became president following Bingu wa Mutharika’s death.

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