Malawian President Peter Mutharika has been narrowly re-elected for a second five-year term following a hotly-contested vote, according to the country’s electoral commission.
Mutharika beat out opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera with 38.57 percent of the vote, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) said on Monday, but Chakwera, a former Christian pastor, was close on his heels, with 35.41 percent.
Deputy President Saulos Chilima of the United Transformation Movement (UTM) came in third, with 20.24 percent of the votes.
Electoral commission chairwoman, Justice Jane Ansah, announced the results on Monday in Malawi‘s commercial capital, Blantyre.
The announcement came minutes after High Court Judge Charles Mkandawire lifted an injunction obtained by Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP) to stop the commission from releasing the results of Tuesday’s vote.
The MCP went to court over what it claimed were irregularities from 10 of the country’s 28 districts and pressed the electoral body to investigate the 147 complaints from parties involved in the May 21 ballot.
Meanwhile, opposition parties have complained that figures on many vote count sheets were altered using correction fluid.
The court said a probe of the irregularities can continue after the results were announced, however, Ansah declared the elections “free and fair” during Monday’s announcement.
The result has triggered criticism from the MCP, with Publicity Secretary Maurice Munthali saying the results were not a “genuine reflection of the will of the people of Malawi”.
“We will not sit down, but continue to fight so that the vote of Malawians should not be wasted,” he said.
MCP leader Chakwera had previously said that his party’s own count had shown him ahead, while party spokesman Eisenhower Mkaka said on Saturday that the party had turned to the courts because of “very glaring irregularities” on results sheets.
The European Union observer mission had described the election campaign as “well-managed, inclusive, transparent and competitive”, but said tension ahead of polling day was not helped by “various claims of ‘rigging'”.
While congratulating the winners, Chilima said on Monday that he was “surprised” at the result and would continue to “seek justice together with all Malawians who feel aggrieved,” adding that his party will “continue to fight for the people of Malawi”.
Mutharika leads the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which his elder brother, late President Bingu wa Mutharika, founded in 2004.
A former law professor, Mutharika, 78, came to power in 2014 and is credited with improving infrastructure and lowering inflation, but has recently faced accusations of corruption and of favouring rural regions where his support is strongest.
Speaking on Monday, DPP spokesman Nicholas Dausi attributed his party’s victory to “good economic policies” and infrastructure developments.
For his second term, Mutharika has promised a leaner cabinet and better infrastructure, but his first term in office saw failures in curbing corruption and a series of albino murders that have made headlines internationally.
Female candidates appear to have benefited from government incentives to run for office, such as reducing registration fees and civil society incentives to help manage their campaigns.
A total of 44 women won parliamentary seats in the May 21 election, 22.8 percent of the legislature. In the last election in 2014, 32 women won seats. In 2009, women made up only 12 percent of the legislature.
Additional reporting from Blantyre by Kandani Ngwira.