Malawi president wins re-election

Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika, a former World Bank official credited with bringing economic gains to the southern African nation of 12 million, on Friday was declared the winner of a national election.

With 93.25 percent of the votes counted, Electoral Commission chairwoman and Supreme Court judge Anastansia Msosa declared the winner at 1 a.m. Friday (2300 GMT Thursday).

Malawians went to the polls Tuesday to chose between re-electing Mutharika or replacing him with a candidate backed by his predecessor ? the latest round in a five-year feud that has triggered rioting, an impeachment effort and parliamentary paralysis.

Mutharika won 2,730,630 of the votes counted, or 66 percent, compared to the 31 percent, or 1,270,057 votes, cast in favor of veteran opposition leader John Tembo.

Earlier Thursday, Tembo alleged voting had been rigged. Election officials said they were investigating his claims.

Mutharika is to be sworn in at 10 a.m. Friday (0800 GMT), government officials said.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe was among the heads of state who had begun arriving in the capital ahead of the ceremony.

Soon after the announcement of the 75-year-old Mutharika’s re-election more than 100 supporters clad in the blue color of his Democratic Progressive Party erupted into a spontaneous cheer and broke into song and dance in the streets.

Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, is better known as the place where pop star Madonna has fought adoption battles and launched a charity to help the country’s 1 million orphans.

Tembo, 77, was a leading figure in the dictatorship of Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who ruled from the end of British rule in 1964 until 1994.

He also has the backing of Mutharika’s predecessor and rival, Bakili Muluzi ? who in 2004 had supported Mutharika’s first run for the presidency.

Earlier Thursday, Muluzi’s United Democratic Front issued a statement congratulating Mutharika. Muluzi entered into an alliance with Tembo’s Malawi Congress Party after he was barred from contesting these elections after having already served two consecutive five-year presidential terms.

But at a later news conference, Tembo said he would not accept the results as he believed there had been vote rigging.

Tembo said he had information that, in some constituencies, Mutharika and his parliamentary candidates won more votes than the number of registered voters.

“These elections have been rigged, we can’t accept to be cheated,” he said.

At the announcement of the results, election commissioner Msosa acknowledged “some challenges” during the electoral process such as irregularities in the voting roll. However, she commended Malawians for holding a peaceful election.

International observers agreed the poll had been peaceful and said it was well-managed. However, they raised concerns about the use of state resources to favor Mutharika’s party in the campaign.

“We are extremely concerned at the conduct of state-owned media in its coverage of these elections,” said former Ghanaian president John Kufuor, who is chairman of the Commonwealth Observer Group, from countries that were former British colonies.

Malawi’s parliament has been paralyzed by the feud between Mutharika and Muluzi. The two sides have accused one another of coup and assassination plots, and Mutharika faced down efforts to have him impeached.

The two fell out after Mutharika won the 2005 vote, with Muluzi’s help, and arrested senior officials of Muluzi’s party on fraud and corruption charges. Muluzi himself is being tried on charges of siphoning $10 million from donor countries, but insists the charges are politically motivated.

There were five other presidential candidates, including Malawi’s first-ever woman presidential candidate, Loveness Gondwe, 42, and an independent, James Nyondo, 40. They shared three percent of the votes.

Nearly 6 million voters were registered; they were also choosing members of the 193-seat parliament.

According to the latest results in the ongoing count, Mutharika’s DPP had won 78 seats against the 18 for Tembo’s MCP. Muluzi’s UDF got only 12 seats with the northern-based Alliance for Democracy and the little-known Malawi Forum for Unity and Development taking a seat each. Twenty-three seats went to independent candidates.

Zambia’s President Rupiya Banda and Tanzanian Vice President Ali Mohammed Shein were also among the guests that arrived Thursday for the presidential inauguration. Mozambican president Armando Guebuza was scheduled to arrive later Friday. South Africa, Rwanda, Swaziland and Lesotho were also expected to sent representatives.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.