Lilongwe - Allegations of hackers breaking into the Malawi Election Commission's (MEC) computers and tampering with the results of this week's election have raised fears of a disputed result and post-poll violence in the southern African nation.
After a catalogue of mishaps surrounding the May 20 poll, the MEC announced late on Wednesday it was abandoning its digital results platform in favour of a manual count, fuelling suspicions of skulduggery.
The only result released so far - a partial tally put out by the private Zodiak radio station - gave opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader Peter Mutharika, the brother of late President Bingu wa Mutharika, a narrow lead.
However, the ruling People Party of incumbent President Joyce Banda, who took over after Bingu wa Mutharika's death in office two years ago, disputed the interim total and said the count had been compromised.
“We have reason to believe that the Malawi Electoral Commission digital election management platform has been hacked by some suspected DPP operatives,” PP spokesman Wakuda Kamanga said in a statement.
Mutharika said police and soldiers had been sent to his residence in the capital, Lilongwe, to search for the “hacking machine” but were refused entry because they had no warrant.
“What we want as DPP is a free and fair election. We know that Joyce Banda is trying to intimidate me by sending the army and making claims of rigging,” he told reporters. “That is nonsense.”
The May 20 poll has been plagued by problems from the onset, with voting materials turning up hours late and ballot papers being sent to the wrong end of the country, infuriating voters in the impoverished, landlocked nation of 13 million.
Organisers had to extend voting in some urban constituencies into a second day and initial counting was held up by a lack of lighting and generators at polling stations.
“It's true we've faced logistical difficulties but we are working day and night to fix the problems and make this election credible,” MEC head Maxon Mbendera told Reuters.
United Democratic Front leader Atupele Muluzi, another presidential challenger, is seeking a court injunction to stop announcement of the results over concerns about their veracity.
In the absence of reliable opinion polls, most analysts had picked Banda - southern Africa's first female head of state, as a narrow favourite in the closest election since one-party rule ended 20 years ago, although her popularity with foreign donors has waned over a corruption scandal. - Reuters