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Malawi electoral commission seeks to suspend annulment of vote

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Blantyre (Malawi) (AFP)

Malawi's electoral commission is seeking to suspend a landmark court order that annulled last year's re-election of President Peter Mutharika, court papers showed on Friday.

The southern African nation made history on Monday when its Constitutional Court ruled in favour of an opposition bid to cancel May's presidential vote over allegations of electoral fraud.

The normally stable country was hit by protests throughout last year over the election result, and on Friday the activists threatened the electoral commission with "the mother of all demonstrations" if they don't step down in the next week.

In the court papers, the Malawi Electoral Commission chairwoman Jane Ansah sought an order "suspending the enforcement of the judgement of the Constitutional Court pending the hearing and determination" of an appeal.

The court ordered a fresh election within 150 days -- as well as an investigation into the conduct of the electoral commission.

But Ansah accused the Constitutional Court of acting in "excess of its jurisdiction".

She said organising an election would require more time -- at least 261 days -- suggesting October 28 for the new polling date.

In its historic ruling, the court ordered a number of legislative changes including that a candidate should be chosen by more than 50 percent of the ballots cast.

Under the current first-past-the-post electoral system for choosing a president, Mutharika won his second term as president with just 38.5 percent of the May vote.

His closest rival Lazarus Chakwera lost by just 159,000 votes, quickly crying foul and heading to court to challenge the result.

Ansah said she believes that "by ordering the legislature to convene and pass (new) legislation, the court acted in excess of its jurisdiction and had infringed on the independence and immunity of parliament."

- 'Mother of all demonstrations' -

After marathon six-month hearings broadcast on public radio, the court on Monday declared that Mutharika was "not duly elected".

It cited what it called massive and widespread irregularities, especially the use of correction fluid on ballot sheets.

Mutharika has slammed the Constitutional Court decision, vowed to appeal and even to run in the fresh election ordered by the judges.

The court also castigated the electoral commission, ordering an investigation into the "competence and conduct" of its seven members and staff.

Ansah said the court acted in "excess of its powers" by ordering such a probe and that "having condemned them already, any such enquiry would be sham".

Meanwhile the activists who led the long-running protests following the contested vote last year have given Ansah and her team of commissioners an ultimatum -- resign by Friday of next week or face a fresh round of demonstrations.

"They (commissioners) are going to see the biggest or the mother of all demonstrations in Malawi," Gift Trapence, vice chairman of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) told a news conference in the capital Lilongwe on Friday.

He warned that protesters would "shut down" the electoral commission offices, adding "this time we are actually prepared to even do vigils in their (commissioners) homes."

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