Malawi’s electoral commission plans to begin a recount Monday of all votes cast in last week’s presidential, legislative and local elections after discovering voter irregularities in some parts of the country.
Officials say the electoral body discovered there were more votes cast than the number of people officially registered.
However, outgoing President Joyce Banda stirred controversy after issuing an order to stop the vote count and called for fresh elections to be held in 90 days, citing voter irregularities.
“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,” Mrs. Banda said.
But a High Court blocked the Banda effort to annul the vote, after officials of the electoral commission and some political parties challenged her order in court.
Speaking as a human rights lawyer, Justin Dzonzi, who is chairman of the Malawi Human Rights Consultative Committee, says Mrs. Banda’s order was unconstitutional.
Dzonzi says Malawians are displeased with the president’s pronouncement, which he says created tension among the population.
“It sparked a lot of outrage. Outrage not only because it kind of exacerbated the anxiety that people have, but because it was also outright unconstitutional. The president does not have such powers to nullify elections. So it was met with a lot of outrage,” said Dzonzi.
Some analysts have been critical of the electoral commission’s conduct of the poll, which they said could undermine the credibility of the vote.
Dzonzi says the electoral commission did not meet expectations of the organization’s promise to administer a vote that would meet international standards.
“A lot of people are disappointed by the way the elections have been conducted. The disappointment arises from the fact that this is the fifth time Malawi is holding democratic elections, and one would have thought we have established an institutional capacity to deliver elections without any glitches,” said Dzonzi.
“So what has happened this time around is actually a strange development given that we have a lot of experience in holding elections,” said Dzonzi. “Partly because of that the results themselves have also sparked a lot of suspicion in terms of their credibility, because some quarters begin to believe that the challenges we have experienced have been as a result of a deliberate action or series of actions aimed at rigging the elections.”
Some presidential candidates called for a recount of the votes after they also cited voter irregularities, prompting analysts to predict electoral disputes that could only be resolved in court.
Dzonzi agreed, saying there could be a court challenge to the final outcome of the vote. But he said the electoral body was right in its decision to recount the vote as part of its bid to ensure the credibility of the general election.
“Definitely, there would be some legal challenge as with the entire process, and I think that would stem from a number of angles; obviously the decision to go back to recount does not favor everybody. So obviously, those who think they have won the election would generally have the right to challenge the entire process,” said Dzonzi.