BLATYRE— The high court in Malawi has blocked President Joyce Banda's effort to annul this week's general election.
President Banda declared Saturday that the entire vote for president, members of parliament and local councils was "null and void," citing voting "irregularities," including many instances of people casting multiple ballots.
Addressing a press conference Saturday in the capital, Lilongwe, Banda called for fresh elections in 90 days, during which she said she will not run.
“In exercise of the powers conferred in section 88 (2) of the constitution, I hereby call for the nullification of all ongoing processes in relation to the 2014 tripartite elections, including announcement and counting of the results to cease forthwith,” she said.
Election commission officials immediately challenged her decision, questioning whether she had the authority to nullify the vote.
Later Saturday, the high court suspended Banda's ruling and ordered vote counting to continue.
Edge Kanyongolo, a constitutional lawyer at the University of Malawi, says the section Banda cited during her press conference does not give her the power to nullify an election.
“My reaction is one of my puzzlement ... because I am reading this section here and is says ‘the president shall provide executive leadership in the interest of national unity in accordance with this constitution and the laws of the republic’," said Kanyongolo. "I am really struggling to find out how one can really interpret that to say it gives the president specific powers to call off an election and call for a fresh election in 90 days.”
Law Society of Malawi President Mandala Mambulasa also told journalists that there is nowhere in the laws of Malawi where the president is given powers to nullify elections.
Tuesday election was marked by lengthy delays for voters and numerous problems with ballots. Progress was so slow that authorities extend voting in some areas into Wednesday and Thursday.
After 30 percent of the vote had been counted, the national election commission said opposition leader Peter Mutharika was in first place among the 11 candidates for president, ahead of President Banda. Another, unofficial count indicated she was even farther behind.
Before the Malawi court reversed Banda's attempt to nullify the vote, protests broke out in several part of the landlocked southern African nation, including in Lilongwe, the capital.
Banda had campaigned to win a full term as president. She ascended from vice president to become head of state two years ago, after the death of longtime president Bingu wa Mutharika.
Presidential hopeful Peter Mutharika is the late president's brother.
Some information for this report comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.