President claims `serious irregularities` in Malawi vote

Mutharika told local radio station Capital FM his party had a lead over Banda and her People`s Party.

Blantyre: Malawi`s President Joyce Banda said there had been "serious irregularities" in the conduct of this week`s election, questioning the legitimacy and outcome of the poverty-stricken nation`s highly-charged vote.

Banda said the vote has seen ballot tampering, presiding officers arrested, people voting multiple times and the collapse of the computerised voter counting system.

"It has come to my attention that there (are) some serious irregularities in the counting and announcement of results in some parts of the country," she said calling for an "immediate manual audit of the whole process".

This is the first major electoral test for the 64-year-old former vice-president, who came to power when president Bingu wa Mutharika died in office two years ago.

After Mutharika`s corruption-tainted rule, Banda was initially feted by the West as one of Africa`s rare women leaders, even receiving a high profile visit from then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

But her government has since been ensnared in a $30 million government corruption scandal dubbed "Cashgate" that has seen foreign donors freeze badly needed aid.

Amid unconfirmed reports that Banda is trailing in the polls to Peter Mutharika, the former president`s brother, she warned the media against "creating a false impression of the possible winners".

Earlier on Thursday a junior minister in Banda`s government Godfrey Kamanya committed suicide, apparently because of the election result.

"He shot himself this morning at around 3:00am," at his house in Lilongwe, police spokesman Kelvin Maigwa told AFP. "He lost elections as an MP."

Voting had been scheduled to take place on Wednesday, but was extended into Thursday when delays of up to ten hours prompted riots in the commercial capital Blantyre, where the army was deployed.But Banda`s request for an audit was rebuffed by the country`s electoral commission chief, who told AFP that despite problems with the electronic counting system, the tally was continuing manually.

Maxon Mbendera insisted the election was "valid" and said Banda`s claim was caused by "desperation".

"The case for recounting is not made out. Perhaps they should go to court," he said.

Election observers from the European Union have described "considerable organisational shortcomings" in the vote and "isolated incidents of unrest".

They have so far not given a verdict on the fairness of the poll, but said the election commission had "acted impartially throughout".

Ahead of the vote, analysts had placed Banda as the favourite, despite a scandal over taxpayer funds being siphoned off into the hands of government officials.

Her main competitor, 74-year-old Peter Mutharika was allowed to run in the election despite facing a trial for treason.

He is accused of trying to stage a constitutional coup by concealing his brother`s death in office, and flying his body around Africa as he plotted ways of preventing Banda -- then vice president -- from being sworn in.

Mutharika told local radio station Capital FM his party had a lead over Banda and her People`s Party.

"PP should not feel scared when I become president. We`ll not prosecute them; I don`t have intentions of victimising anybody."

He claimed the army and police had earlier arrived at his house to conduct a search, but did not have a warrant.

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