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President declares Malawi election 'null and void,' court disagrees

BLANTYRE, Malawi--Malawi's President Joyce Banda on Saturday declared last week's chaotic election “null and void” and called for a fresh vote, but the high court rejected the decision.

Banda, who has claimed there were “serious irregularities” with the poll, declared fresh elections should be held within 90 days but said she would not stand as a candidate, to “give Malawians a free and fair” election.

But hours after her announcement, Malawi's high court issued an injunction preventing the president from annulling the poll.

The injunction was granted after a lawyer for the Malawi Electoral Commission applied to the court to quash Banda's decision, asking whether she had any “mandate, constitutional or statutory to interfere with electoral process.”

The president had previously said that she was annulling the poll using “powers conferred upon me from the constitution.”

Banda's main rival Peter Mutharika said the decision to annul the election was “illegal.”

“Nothing in the constitution gives the president powers to cancel an election,” said Mutharika, who partial results showed was well ahead of Banda in the polls. “This is clearly illegal, unconstitutional and not acceptable.”

Chaotic Scenes

There were chaotic scenes at the tally center in Blantyre when word went around that the poll had been nullified, with police ordering a shutdown of the center.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties to refrain from violence, remain calm and “support fully” the Malawi Electoral Commission in completing its work.

Ban commended the Malawi people “for turning out in large numbers for the country's first tripartite elections,” his spokesperson said.

Preliminary observer statements indicated that the polling process was “generally consistent with regional and international standards” despite technical problems and fraud allegations, according to the U.N. chief.

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