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Arson possible in ballot box fire, Malawi says

18 July 2014, 14:26

Blantyre - Malawi's electoral commission has said arson cannot be ruled out in a warehouse fire that destroyed ballot boxes containing votes from a disputed election just days after a court ordered a recount.

"Having analysed the preliminary reports, the commission is of the view that arson cannot be ruled out," Maxon Mbendera, the head of the Malawi Electoral Commission, said in a statement late on Thursday.

He said the commission had "formally approached the Inspector General of Police to institute appropriate investigations."

Mbendera said the government warehouse in the capital Lilongwe had been heavily guarded by armed police officers when the fire broke out on Tuesday night, destroying 1 500 ballot boxes, gas cylinders and gas lamps used during 20 May elections.

Allegations of cheating

Opposition parties claim that the fire was deliberately started to destroy evidence that could have overturned the parliamentary victory of a member of newly elected President Peter Mutharika's party.

Last week, a high court in the capital Lilongwe ordered a recount of the votes in a constituency that was won by Bently Namasasu, a candidate for Mutharika's ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

The Malawi Congress Party candidate Ulemu Msungama, who lost the election by 98 votes, had challenged the results.

Ken Ndanga, a spokesperson of the opposition United Democratic Front, said his party was suspicious of the fire because it came after the court order to recount the votes. "We believe it is a grand conspiracy to hide the truth," Ndanga told AFP.

Despite widespread allegations of cheating, outgoing president Joyce Banda, who had nullified the poll seeking a recount, conceded defeat.

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