Africa: Malawi braces for ruling on alleged election fraud

Blantyre (Malawi) (AFP) - Malawi's constitutional court is set to rule next week on whether to annul controversial poll results that saw the re-election of President Peter Mutharika, a verdict widely expected to stoke turmoil.

The case has gripped the southern African nation and kept Malawians glued to radio stations for hours on end listening to live broadcasts of witnesses presenting evidence of alleged vote rigging.

Sporadic protests have broken out across the country since Mutharika was declared the winner by a narrow margin in May presidential elections with 38.5 percent of the vote.

Runner-up Lazarus Chakwera, who lost by just 159,000 votes, alleges he was robbed of victory.

His Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the opposition United Transformation Movement (UTM) have petitioned the courts to annul the poll.

A panel of judges is scheduled to deliver the verdict on Monday morning.

It is the first time presidential elections have been legally challenged in Malawi since the country gained independence from Britain in 1964.

Protesters have been demanding the resignation of the electoral commission chief, and several demonstrations have turned violent.

"There will be winners and losers and we are not sure how the losers will react," said Malawian politics professor Michael Jana.

A number of schools and companies have closed for the week, fearing violence could erupt after the ruling is announced.

- 'Expecting change' -

Anticipation was high in the financial capital Blantyre, Malawi's second-largest city.

"I'm expecting change," said Chatonda Jembe, who works as an administrator.

"Not necessarily change in leadership (but) change in attitude."

"The leadership on both sides of the political divide know they can no longer take people for granted."

Anger flared last month after Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda claimed bribes had been offered to the five judges presiding over the case.

Malawi's anti-graft body vowed to probe the allegations and arrested top banker Thom Mpinganjira last week. Read More

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