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Malawi presidency to challenge court ruling overturning vote result

Posters for candidates on a tree in the university town of Zomba in southern Malawi May 19, 2009. Photo: Commonwealth Secretariat/Flickr

BLANTYRE, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Malawi's presidency said on Wednesday it would appeal against a court ruling that overturned Peter Mutharika's narrow election victory, calling the order "a great miscarriage of justice".

Presidential spokesman Mgeme Kalirani said the office had assembled papers for its legal challenge. “The ruling … cannot be allowed to stand,” his statement read. “It will create a lot of problems in the country’s jurisprudence.”

The Constitutional Court stunned Malawians on Monday when it annulled the May 2019 vote that returned Mutharika to power as president. The court cited “widespread, systematic and grave” irregularities, which included results sheets with sections blotted out or altered with correction fluid.

It ordered a re-run, triggering widespread celebrations by opposition supporters.

Mutharika, Malawi president since 2014, won a close election with a 38.57% share of the vote. Opposition party leader Lazarus Chakwera got 35.41% and Deputy President Saulos Chilima, who had formed his own party, got 20.24%

Many observers welcomed the court’s decision as a democratic milestone for a continent where judges often play it safe by ruling in favour of the winning incumbent in a disputed poll.

“It’s a reminder that where institutions retain independence and professionalism it is possible to correct wrong politics,” Zimbabwean opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, the loser of Zimbabwe’s 2018 race, said on Tuesday.

“For too long our continent has been plagued by the scourge of unfair elections,” he said in a statement.

In 2017, judges in Kenya annulled elections there and ordered fresh polls on similar grounds of malpractice, although President Uhuru Kenyatta won the new election anyway when the opposition leader boycotted the poll.

In a unanimous decision, a panel of five judges ordered that Malawi should hold a presidential vote within 150 days, upholding complaints from Chakwera, the president’s main rival, and Chilima.

Malawi, a lakeside southern African nation, depends heavily on foreign aid and is frequently beset by worsening droughts.

Mutharika, a 79-year-old former law professor, has managed to rein in rising prices of basic goods and improved Malawi’s roads and other infrastructure. However, critics accuse him of cronyism and failing to tackle graft.

(Reporting by Frank Phiri Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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