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As vote counting stretches into an additional two days in Malawi’s general elections, President Joyce Banda has called for a recount amidst swirling accusations of vote rigging and fraud - threatening to destabilise the southern African nation.

"It has come to my attention that there [are] some serious irregularities in the counting and announcement of results in some parts of the country,” Ms Banda said at a 22 May press conference.

No official numbers have been released, but the race is supposed to be tight between sitting President Banda and the three other front runner candidates. Signs of popular unrest are already percolating. Voters burned polling stations after several voting stations opened as many as 10 hours late, causing the military to be deployed. The electronic voting system also broke down in several locations across the country.

Aside from Ms Banda, each of the other frontrunner candidates has leverage within different subsets of the populations. Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate Lazarus Chakwera, a Christian pastor, rallies much of the ideological Christian vote in the south and central regions. Peter Mutharikia, brother of the former president, can rely on a strong political network and plentiful family money, as can Atupele Muluzi, who is related to Malawi’s first elected president.

“Policy-wise there are almost no differences between the four main contenders. Its very much based on ideology and family ties - being from certain regions and long-standing support bases,” says Robert Besseling, principal Africa analyst at IHS Global Insight.  

For the business community, the vacuum left by opposition candidates lack of defined policies could be cause for concern, however.

“None of them have laid out any plans for the energy sector, for the tobacco, construction, mining sector. And that’s to a certain extent quite worrying that a lot of investors will have to be renegotiating their contract, if one of these three opposition contenders were to come in,” Mr Besseling warns.

This is the President’s first time on the ticket, as she succeeded in office following the death of former President Mutharika in 2012. Initially popular domestically - and lauded internationally - Ms Banda’s political fortunes took a downward turn following a devaluation of the national currency, the kwacha, that triggered riots in urban centres, and the revelation of a corruption scandal in the civil service that her rivals have not hesitated to capitalise on.

“A year ago, I don’t think anyone would have doubted Banda’s ability to win this election,” says Mr Besseling. “I think for the urban vote, especially middle classes, private sector workers, even public sector workers, this Cashgate scandal has certainly had a big impact on her electoral chances.”

Following an audit by accountancy firm Baker Tilly, a report revealed that the Malawian state was defrauded by around $32m, the equivalent of nearly 1 percent of GDP, in just six months.

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