May 31, 2004

MALAWI: Bingu wa Mutharika sworn in as President, but opposition demands fresh elections

Malawi's main opposition bloc has filed a suit for a re-run of the presidential polls won by the ruling party as the European Union (EU) questioned the results of the country's third free polls. Meanwhile, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) which came second in the presidential polls but gained a parliamentary majority in general elections held the same day said it would not join the government of the new President Bingu wa Mutharika. "We are challenging the validity of the results. We have filed documents with the court this morning and we want a re-run," Charles Mhango, lawyer for Gwanda Chakuamba of the seven-party Mgwirizano (Unity) Coalition, announced. "The irregularities are quite massive, not even a re-count will do," he furthermore claimed. Chakuamba, came third in last week's controversial polls, won by Mutharika from the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) - the successor of outgoing leader Bakili Muluzi. Nickolas Dausi, the second vice president of the once-dominant MCP said it would not join Mutharika's government but would also not "rush to court until substantive evidence of rigging and irregularities were found." "It's a big no. The party will work in opposition because no sensible person would want to work with a party that robbed us of a clear victory," he said.

The MCP was founded by former Malawian president Kamuzu Banda and led the southern African nation to independence from Britain in 1964. It won 60 seats in the 193-member parliament in last week's elections. Mutharika's victory has and inauguration was also marred by protests in Malawi's economic capital Blantyre.

Meanwhile, European Union observers questioned the results of the elections. Evoking a "lack of transparency in the tabulation of results," an EU statement released here said: "We now urge the Malawi electoral commission to rapidly publish detailed results down to the polling station level." But Commonwealth observers issued another statement by saying that "voters were free to express their wishes on Election Day ... but because of the problems with the register, the bias of the state media and the abuse of incumbency, the process prior to Election Day was unfair. Some of the requirements of the democratic process have been met, but others have not," it added. (ed.)

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