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Malawi President Leads Vote Count, Opposition Cries Foul 

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika and his party are leading in early results from the country's elections, prompting one opposition leader to concede defeat. But the main opposition party says it will contest the outcome in the courts.

An early lead in vote counting by President wa Mutharika and his party continues to widen. But the news angered opposition leader John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party, who said there had been widespread fraud. Tembo, a presidential candidate, told a media conference he will contest the outcome in court.

Observer groups described the election as democratic, but all had some reservations. Like most others, the mission for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa found that the process overall to be free and fair.

Mission leader Ambassador Otema Musaka told the media the result reflected the will of Malawian voters.

"The mission therefore considers that the votes cast and declared results thus far as a true reflection of the will of the people of Malawi in the 2009 presidential and parliamentary election," Musaka said.

Like other observer groups the Malawi Election Support Network, a coalition of 75 non-governmental organizations, said in a report released to the media there was inequitable pre-election access to the public media for all parties.

Denis Kadima of the Electoral Institute for Southern Africa said, like most other observer missions, his group found that the public media showed a significant bias in favor of the ruling party in terms of access and content.

"On the other hand we deplored some of the challenges like the control of the state-owned media by the incumbent party and noticed that this was not the first time that this was happening. We saw that happening in [1999], more so in 2004 and this time around it has been even [worse]," he said.

Observers also noted progress in electoral processes since the last general election in 2004, a greater number of female candidates, and enthusiastic participation by Malawians.

Executive Director Rafik Hajat of the Institute for Policy Interaction in the second city, Blantyre, told VOA Malawians have taken democratic processes to heart.

"You could see people were enjoying participating in the democratic process. And I think democracy is sinking in to the hearts and minds of the people," Hajat said.

This is the fourth regular election in Malawi since the end of one-party rule in 1994.