Malawi’s ruling People Party says there are “serious irregularities” in the counting and announcement of results from a May 20 election, raising fears of a disputed outcome and violence. Claims include hacking of election computers but parties call for calm.

Claims by Malawi’s ruling People Party that there are “serious irregularities” in the counting and announcement of results from the southern African nation’s May 20 election have raised tensions and fears of a disputed outcome and violence.

President Joyce Banda made the claims on Thursday (May 22). Reports included hackers breaking into Malawi Election Commission (MEC) computers and ballot tallies exceeding the number of registered voters in some constituencies, prompting Banda to demand a manual count.

The MEC said late on Wednesday it was abandoning its digital results platform, fuelling suspicions of skulduggery after a catalogue of mishaps surrounding the poll.

The only result released so far – a partial tally put out by the private Zodiak radio station – gave opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader Peter Mutharika, the brother of late President Bingu wa Mutharika, a narrow lead.

However, the People Party of Banda, who took over as president after Bingu wa Mutharika’s death in office two years ago, disputed the interim total and said the count had been compromised.

The poll has been plagued by problems from the outset, with voting materials turning up hours late and ballot papers being sent to the wrong end of the country, infuriating voters in the impoverished, landlocked nation.

Organisers had to extend voting in some urban areas into a second day and initial counting was held up by a lack of lighting and generators at polling stations.

Election observers say they were cautious of the counting, given the various technical challenges being experienced but warned parties not to “instigate” tension among voters.

“At this moment the election commission has been trying to tally the numbers. They say the systems are failing, the technical systems, the computers. But the leadership is out there instigating disruption of the process. This should not be allowed to happen in this country. We have come too far for that. We are such a poor country that we cannot have that situation,” said Tom Banda, a civil society member.

“I would look at the qualitative aspect in that the process running up to and the way the commission has been forthcoming, with the stakeholders, information, discussions and all that, that has been quite commendable,” said Kizito Tethani, CEO of the center for multiparty democracy in Malawi.

The elections are the tightest since the end of one-party rule 20 years ago.

On the streets of the second city Blantyre, it was business as usual. Voters are weary of any violence in the normally peaceful country.

“No. If some people are saying the results are being tampered with or there is rigging that is a lie. Everything about this election is going on well and there is order by the electoral body, MEC, they are following the rules of the game,” said Deborah Chisuzah, a Blantyre resident.

“All that we need to do as Malawians is to be very patient to avoid riots. And it is my hope that the election results are counted systematically like photocopying and submission to the tally centres,” said Wafa Miliyoneya another Blantyre resident.

In the absence of reliable opinion polls, most analysts had picked Banda – southern Africa’s first female head of state – as narrow favourite, although recently her popularity with voters and foreign donors has been hit by a corruption scandal.

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