Malawi president wins poll

By Mabvuto Banda

LILONGWE (Reuters) - Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika will be sworn in for a second term Friday after winning re-election in a ballot the opposition said he rigged.

The Electoral Commission declared wa Mutharika the victor early Friday in a vote widely viewed as a test for political stability in the southern African country.

He also won a clear majority in the parliamentary vote, which should ease a standoff with the opposition that has almost paralysed government and unnerved donors and investors in the poor nation whose economy is one of the world's fastest growing.

Wa Mutharika won 2.7 million votes in the presidential poll, with 93 percent of ballots counted. His closest rival John Tembo won 1.2 million.

The president's Democratic Progressive Party won 91 of 193 parliamentary seats, Tembo's Malawi Congress Party (MCP) took 25 and the United Democratic Front (UDF), which joined the MCP in an opposition alliance, won 17. Independent candidates took 26.

Tembo cried foul after early results showed wa Mutharika taking a commanding lead and said he would go to court to contest the results.

"I have received complaints from all over the country and believe that we have evidence to show that the election was rigged," Tembo told a news conference.

With the inauguration due Friday, several southern African leaders, including Zambian President Rupiah Banda and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, are in the country.

It was not immediately clear when Tembo would launch his court action.


Wa Mutharika based his campaign on a 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 (197 pounds) per capita.

The Economist Intelligence Unit says Malawi is the world's second-fastest growing economy.

A Commonwealth election monitoring mission said wa Mutharika had exploited state TV and radio to gain an unfair advantage in the election but that the opposition should drop its protest.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) also noted media bias but said the vote was "credible ... and fair."

Former president and UDF leader Bakili Muluzi, who was excluded from standing himself but had formed an alliance with Tembo, acknowledged wa Mutharika had won and said he would support the new government.

Muluzi has been an arch rival of wa Mutharika and a protracted power struggle between the two almost paralysed parliament, prompting a failed impeachment bid and allegations of a coup plot that unnerved Western donors.

(Writing by Rebecca Harrison; Editing by Ralph Gowling)

Article Published: 22/05/2009