New hitch in Malawi vote saga

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iolpic afr malawi politics-elections AFP Electoral commission workers and other stakeholders recount votes during Malawi's national elections on May 24, 2014, at the National Tally Centre in Blantyre. File picture: Amos Gumulira

Blantyre - Malawi's disputed presidential elections ran into fresh trouble Thursday after a judge due to rule on when the results should be released had to step down from the case.

The hitch means it is now unclear whether court challenges to the disputed vote will be considered before the Friday midnight deadline for releasing the results.

High court judge Healy Potani was due to hear the case Thursday and rule on Friday on whether Malawi's electoral commission could be granted a 30-day extension in order to hold a recount.

But he recused himself after his impartiality was challenged on the grounds that one of his brothers is a deputy chief elections officer at the electoral commission.

Efforts were being made to find a new judge to hear the case, officials said.

But with the case thrown into confusion, the electoral commission indicated it might have to release the results on Friday without a recount.

By law, the commission is obliged to release the results within eight days of the vote.

Chief elections officer Willie Kalonga told AFP: “We still have until tomorrow to announce the results.”

The Malawi Congress Party, whose presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera was running second in preliminary results released after about a third of the vote had been counted last week, had asked for a court order allowing for a recount.

But the Democratic Progressive Party led by Peter Mutharika, who was leading the vote in early results, wanted the court to prevent the 30-day extension.

Meanwhile, President Joyce Banda, who was shown to be running third, last week called the vote “null and void”, saying it was marred by “serious irregularities”, and called for fresh elections.

Modecai Msiska, a lawyer for the electoral commission, told AFP that despite the failure of the case to begin with, “as we stand now, the commission is within the statutory calendar to release the results by Friday”.

Meanwhile, it would wait to see whether the court could grant an extension for a recount, he said

Sapa-AFP



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