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Intrigue and Drama as Malawians Await Election Results

In some polling centres in Malawi, lines were so long people couldn't see ahead. Photo by Steve Sharra. Used with permission.

In some polling centres in Malawi, lines were so long people couldn't see ahead. Photo by Steve Sharra. Used with permission.

In a bizarre twist for a country in Sub-Saharan Africa, a governing party is accusing an opposition party of having rigged the election.

Unofficial results in Malawi's elections for president, members of parliament and ward councillors show the incumbent President Dr. Joyce Banda, Malawi's and southern Africa's first female president, losing by wide margins and two opposition candidates neck and neck in the running.

Malawians flocked to polling centres across the country on Tuesday, 20 May, 2014 for the vote. In much of the country voting went on smoothly, but in a number of centres things did not go as planned. In some centres people lined up from 4 a.m. and waited into the afternoon without voting. Anger spilled over into rage, with one centre being set on fire and cast ballots being destroyed in others.

People had hoped that by Thursday, 22 May they would know who had won the elections, but things have taken a dramatic turn.

A polling centre in Malawi burns. Photo by Albert Sharra. Used with permission.

A polling centre in Malawi burns. Photo by Albert Sharra. Used with permission.

As results started trickling in on Tuesday night, Peter Mutharika took an early lead and Malawian social media went into overdrive. There was an overwhelming sense that he would win the election, even with only 23 percent of the votes counted. There were calls for Banda to concede defeat and for the Malawi Electoral Commission to declare Mutharika the winner. Pundits started propounding opinions as to why Mutharika had won and the other three had respectively lost.

Mutharika is the younger brother of late President Bingu wa Mutharika who died suddenly on 5 April, 2012, in his third year of his second five-year term. Banda, his vice president, had fallen out with Bingu wa Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party and had formed her own party, the People's Party. After initial attempts by Bingu wa Mutharika's inner circle to subvert the constitution and make his brother Peter the president, Banda was sworn in and became Malawi's forth president, finishing the remaining two years from Bingu wa Mutharika's term.

Banda's two years has been characterised by scandals, culminating in the uncovering of massive fraud dubbed “cashgate” that reached all the way to her office. A much-awaited opinion poll by Afrobarometer showed Mutharika leading, followed by Malawi Congress Party candidate Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, and Banda coming a distant third.

On Thursday morning, Banda called the press to her official residence Kamuzu Palace where she issued a statement but did not take questions from the media. Blogger Kondwani Munthali posted the statement on his blog. In the president's own words:

It has come to my attention that there some serious irregularities in the counting and announcement of results in some parts of the country and the People’s Party has presented specific details of these irregularities to the Malawi Electoral Commission

She alluded to fears that the electoral commission's communication system had been tampered with. She listed five irregularities, one of which was:

Using information technology to block communication devices of some monitors, and thereby limiting the monitors’ ability to effectively carry out their duties.

Tweeting the briefing was journalist Suzgo Khunga, who reported the president's rigging allegation:

The president repeated the allegation in a BBC Focus on Africa interview on Thursday night, putting the blame unequivocally at the electoral commission. The People's Party, of which Dr. Joyce Banda is the leader, sought a court injunction to stop Malawi Broadcasting Corporation TV and Zodiak Broadcasting Station from announcing incoming election results from polling centres. The High Court rejected the application, according to a Nyasa Times report.

In another press conference later in the day, the Malawi Electoral Commission rejected claims that the computer system could have been hacked into. The Nation newspaper tweeted the press conference and quoted the MEC Chair Justice Maxwell Mbendera as saying:

Later in the afternoon, Mutharika also held his own press conference, where he reported that he had information about a plot to arrest his running mate, Saulos Chilima, and his personal assistant Ben Phiri:

With common stories of how parties in power are the ones with the capacity and wherewithal to rig an election, people are asking how an opposition party can possibly rig. Jack McBrams tweeted:

The president did not look her usual self in her morning press conference, according to blogger Rebecca Chimjeka. Chimjeka reports that the president “looked confused”:

When adressing journalists in the morning the she looked confused,very tense and not active

For example instead of saying this morning ,she said tonite and instead of saying good morning she said good nite

All in all she looked confused. [all sic]

There was an unsubstantiated rumour that the president became ill and was driven to the Kamuzu Central Hospital soon after her Thursday press conference, but sources close to the president said she went to the hospital to visit Halima Daud, her former Minister of Climate and Environmental Affairs. Daud is said to have collapsed earlier in the day after learning she had lost her parliamentary seat in Dowa.

Thursday was an unusually eventful day. Malawians woke up to the news that a former deputy minister of local government, who lost his parliamentary seat in the elections, was found dead in his house. Godfrey Kamanya is said to have had a gunshot wound on his chest. A letter, believed to be a suicide note was found in the house.

Meanwhile, voting continued until Thursday in centres that were unable to vote on the designated election day. The electoral commission has reassured Malawians that results of the elections will be known within eight days from the last voting day, as provided for by electoral law.

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