Malawi leader blasts vote rerun as opposition poised to win

Malawian President Peter Mutharika addresses the media at a news conference in Blantyre, Malawi, Saturday, June 27, 2020. More than 6 million Malawians went to the polls in an election re-run Tuesday, June 23, 2020, after a court overturned last year's election results and ordered a fresh vote. (AP Photo/Thoko Chikondi)

LILONGWE, Malawi (AP) — Malawi’s president on Saturday called the historic re-run of the presidential election “the worst in Malawi’s history” but urged the country to move on peacefully as it awaits official results of a vote the opposition is poised to win.

Meanwhile, members of the Presidential Guard went to provide security for opposition candidate Lazarus Chakwera, who led in the results.

President Peter Mutharika in his first public comments since Tuesday’s vote asserted that his party’s election monitors had been beaten and intimidated into staying away from their work. “Strangely, the Malawi Electoral Commission has dismissed our complaints because our monitors were not there to report irregularities,” he told reporters. He did not take questions.

The Malawi Human Right Commission, one of the observers, has said the election was peaceful and transparent.

A court overturned the original election last year won by Mutharika, citing widespread irregularities including the use of correction fluid on ballots. It was just the second time in Africa that a court has overturned a presidential election, following a ruling on Kenya’s vote in 2017.

Malawi’s state broadcaster on Thursday night said Chakwera was leading with 59% with all votes counted, while Mutharika had 38%. But the electoral commission chair said that before any final announcement they had to meet the legal requirements for physically verifying results received.

Final results were expected Saturday night or early Sunday.

Months of sometimes deadly unrest had followed the announcement of Mutharika’s win in the May 2019 election as people in long-peaceful Malawi went into the streets to protest.

The Constitutional Court on Feb. 3 unanimously ordered that the vote be held again, citing “widespread, systematic and grave” evidence of irregularities and vote tampering.

Mutharika wants a second and final five-year term.

“It is only my sincere hope that we will unite to take this country forward instead of taking it backward,” he said Saturday, urging people to respect the presidency.