Malawi’s opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera has rejected last week’s results of the presidential elections, saying he has filed for a court order to have the vote annulled, citing fraud as one of the reasons.
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 made an announcement that he was filing a high court petition to have the election declared void.
Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP) got a brief court injunction last week to halt the release of the results, claiming “very glaring irregularities”.
“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,” Chakwera added.
The party said that results sheets were covered in correction fluid and some sheets from polling stations located far apart bore the same handwriting.
But the court order was lifted on Monday and Mutharika was declared the winner hours later by the Malawi Electoral Commission.
At his swearing-in ceremony at a sports stadium in Malawi’s commercial capital Blantyre on Tuesday, Mutharika encouraged opposition parties to accept the outcome, saying “they have to accept that there can only be one winner.”
Mutharika dismissed any doubts over the vote, saying international observers had deemed the May 21 election “peaceful, free and fair.”
After the ceremony, police used teargas to disperse Chakwera supporters who gathered outside the MCP headquarters in Lilongwe, the capital.
Mutharika, leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won the presidential election with 38.57 percent of the vote, against Chakwera on 35.41 percent. Turnout was 74 percent of 6.8 million registered voters.
Malawi subscribes to 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.
In November last year, Mutharika was forced to return a $200,000 donation from a businessman that was 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 percent, was a member of the ruling party and vice-president but quit last year to form the youth-focused United Transformation Movement.
Under Malawi law, the president cannot fire the vice president.
The DPP also won the parliamentary election held on the same day.
Malawi won 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, has a population of 18 million people, with one million adults living with HIV, one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world.
Koketso Ramorei is a journalist and news editor of SADC News with years of experience in a number of genres including sports, politics and community reporting. He has worked for a numerous publications including The Citizen Newspaper and is a former editor of a Johannesburg-based off-campus publication called The Waldorfian Times.