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Malawi's president orders new election, but judge says proclamation is invalid

Background from left to right, Chief Justice Richard Banda, his wife, Malawi President Joyce Banda, and younger sister Anjimile Mtila-Oponyo, join a voting queue to cast their votes in the eastern district of Zomba, Malawi, Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Africa's second female president Joyce Banda is facing stiff challenges from a field of 12 candidates in Malawi's elections Tuesday. (AP Photo/Raphael Tenthani)

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Background from left to right, Chief Justice Richard Banda, his wife, Malawi President Joyce Banda, and younger sister Anjimile Mtila-Oponyo, join a voting queue to cast their votes in the eastern district of Zomba, Malawi, Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Africa's second female president Joyce Banda is facing stiff challenges from a field of 12 candidates in Malawi's elections Tuesday. (AP Photo/Raphael Tenthani)

BLANTYRE, Malawi - Malawi's president, Joyce Banda, said Saturday she has nullified an election because of alleged irregularities and has ordered that a new vote should be held within 90 days. But a judge said her instruction was invalid, signalling uncertainty ahead for the politically fractious nation in southern Africa.

The dispute followed Tuesday's election, which was troubled by delays and other problems at some polling stations as well as scattered unrest. Banda was vice-president and came to power in 2012 following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Mutharika's brother, Peter, was a prominent challenger to Banda in the vote. Some of his supporters stoned shops and vehicles in the capital, Lilongwe, after Banda's announcement. Soldiers later patrolled the streets.

In announcing a new election, Banda said she would drop out of any new race for the leadership of the country, which is heavily dependent on foreign aid and has been troubled by a government corruption scandal.

"Malawians should elect a leader of their choice, but I will not take part in those elections," Banda said.

A High Court judge, Kenyatta Nyirenda, said he had granted a stay order against the presidential proclamation, allowing vote-counting to proceed.

"She does not have powers under the Constitution to stop the elections," he said.

Maxon Mbendera, head of Malawi's election commission, urged electoral staff to keep working in order to complete the vote count.

Malawi uses the first-past-the-post system, meaning that the candidate with the largest share of votes, no matter how small a percentage of the total votes cast, is the winner. Aside from the presidential vote, legislative and local elections were also held on Tuesday.

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