Malawian President Joyce Banda on Saturday declared last week’s chaotic election “null and void” and called for a fresh vote, but the high court rejected the decision.
Banda, who has claimed there were “serious irregularities” with the poll, declared fresh elections should be held within 90 days, but said she would not stand as a candidate to “give Malawians a free and fair” election.
Hours after her announcement, Malawi’s high court issued an injunction preventing the president from annulling the poll.
The injunction was granted after a lawyer for the Malawi Electoral Commission applied to the court to quash Banda’s decision, asking whether she had any “mandate, constitutional or statutory to interfere with electoral process.”
The president had previously said that she was annulling the poll using “powers conferred upon me from the constitution.”
Banda’s main rival, Peter Mutharika, said the decision to annul the election was “illegal.”
“Nothing in the constitution gives the president powers to cancel an election,” said Mutharika, who partial results showed was well ahead of Banda in the polls. “This is clearly illegal, unconstitutional and not acceptable.”
There were chaotic scenes at the tally center in Blantyre when word went around that the poll had been nullified, with police ordering a shutdown of the center.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties to refrain from violence, remain calm and “support fully” the Malawi Electoral Commission in completing its work.
Ban commended Malawians “for turning out in large numbers for the country’s first tripartite elections,” his spokesperson said.
Preliminary observer statements indicated that the polling process was “generally consistent with regional and international standards” despite technical problems and fraud allegations, according to the UN chief.
EU election observers echoed the call for calm. Banda has alleged that some people voted multiple times, ballots had been tampered with, presiding officers arrested and the computerized voter counting system collapsed.
Her supporters have alleged that Mutharika — who is already facing treason charges — might be behind the irregularities.
With about a third of the votes counted, Mutharika, 74, had 42 percent of the vote, while Banda had 23 percent, according to preliminary results announced by the electoral commission.
Mutharika did not claim victory, but said the “people have spoken and this was a free and credible election.”
“I hope the president abandons the path she has taken,” Mutharika said. “As citizens we should not take this country on the path of destruction.”