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Malawi opposition says vote rigged as president leads
Thu May 21, 2009 11:28am EDT
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By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE (Reuters) - Malawi's main opposition leader John Tembo accused the government of rigging an election on Thursday as President Bingu wa Mutharika took a strong lead, and vowed to contest the result in court.
The president was well ahead with almost 80 percent of constituencies counted in an election viewed as a test for political stability in the poor but rapidly growing southern African country. Final results are due at around 1500 GMT.
But Tembo said he had evidence the vote had been rigged and would present his case in court.
"I have received complaints from all over the country and believe that we have evidence to show that the election was rigged," Tembo, the main opposition presidential candidate, told a news conference.
A Commonwealth election monitoring mission earlier said wa Mutharika had exploited state media to gain an unfair advantage in the election but said the opposition should drop its protest.
"They should not do that, that is the nature of democracy, you are in today and out tomorrow," John Kufuor, Ghana's former president and leader of the Commonwealth team, said.
Wa Mutharika based his campaign for a second term on his record of making Malawi a net food exporter and delivering three years of growth above 7 percent in the country of 13 million where annual gross domestic product is only $313 per capita.
Electoral Commission head Anastasia Msosa said votes had been counted and verified from 153 out of 193 constituencies -- nearly 80 percent.
"The counting shows that the incumbent is leading by a wide margin," Msosa told Reuters.
Former president and leader of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) Bakili Muluzi, who was excluded from standing himself but had formed an alliance with Malawi Congress Party (MCP) Leader Tembo, acknowledged wa Mutharika had won and vowed to support the new government.
Asked why he had broken ranks with Muluzi, Tembo said each party had its own identity. "What UDF does and what MCP does, does not need to be the same in the electoral alliance," Tembo said.
Muluzi has been an arch rival of wa Mutharika, and a protracted power struggle between the two almost paralyzed parliament, prompting a failed impeachment bid and allegations of a coup plot that unnerved crucial Western donors.
Kufuor said in an interim report that while overall, the election was well managed, there was no level playing field.
"However, the overwhelming impact of the exploitation of the incumbency advantage, especially the unashamed bias of the state TV and radio, created a markedly unlevel playing field, tarnishing the otherwise democratic character of the campaign," he said. Continued...
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