Malawi vote counting system collapses

Malawi election officials have had to resort to fax and email to tally votes from this week's election after the electronic system broke down, the chief elections officer said Thursday (22/05/2014), delaying the release of results.

The system "is refusing to take the information from the ground where our data clerks are stationed to send the results," chief elections officer Willie Kalonga told AFP two days after the vote.

As a "back-up solution," officials in the southern African country's 28 districts were sending the results manually via fax and email to the national elections centre in Blantyre.

The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has yet to release preliminary results after Tuesday's tight-run polls, which pit incumbent Joyce Banda against her rival and predecessor's brother Peter Mutharika.

The military was deployed to restore calm after irate voters set alight poll stations in protest at them opening up to 10 hours late, with election materials unavailable in places.

Voting spilled into an unscheduled second day Wednesday at 13 voting stations, and thousands queued to cast their ballot.

Commonwealth observers noted "serious shortcomings" in the distribution of ballot papers, boxes, forms, ink and lamps for voting after dark.

"A considerable number of polling stations opened late on account of these shortcomings," it said in an interim report Thursday.

But the Commonwealth deemed the vote "peaceful, orderly and transparent" overall, despite "isolated incidents of violence" owing to frustration with the delays.

"The polling environment was generally conducive to the free expression of will by the electorate," it concluded.

Around 7.5 million people were eligible to vote in the fifth democratic elections since the end of dictatorship 20 years ago.

The MEC will only announce results when 30 percent of the votes have been counted, and is currently "not anywhere in the neighbourhood" of that figure, MEC chairman Maxon Mbendera said Wednesday.

Banda, 64, began her term as a darling of the West, feted as one of Africa's rare women leaders.

Her government has since been ensnared in a $30 million corruption scandal dubbed "Cashgate", but she has claimed credit for uncovering the fraud.

Critics say the funds went into her party's war-chest.

For 74-year-old Mutharika, victory would mean an end to his trial for treason.

He is accused of trying to conceal his brother's death in 2012 by secretly flying his body to South Africa to prevent Banda - who was vice president at the time - from being sworn in as interim leader. - Sapa-AFP