Conspiracy suspected in Malawi ballot box fire

Malawi’s human rights groups have said the fire incident that destroyed disputed votes for Lilongwe City South East Constituency at the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) warehouse in Lilongwe on Monday night smell of foul play and conspiracy in a bid to destroy evidence in the ongoing electoral dispute currently in court.

The warehouse was gutted by fire amidst a High Court case in which one of the losing contestants for the Lilongwe City South East Ulemu Msungama (Malawi Congress Party) is challenging the results which saw Democratic Progressive Party candidate Bentry Namasasu winning.

Earlier on the High Court ruled that there should be a recount of the votes but Namasasu stopped the process through a court injunction.

Timothy and Trapence: Signed the statement
Timothy and Trapence: Signed the statement

In a joint statement two of the country’s vocal civil society organisations-the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for Development of People (Cedep)-expressed suspicion over the fire, saying they believe it was “some work of conspiracy”.

“Looking at the time of the event, CHRR and Cedep can’t help getting suspicious of some underhand in the whole incident,” CHRR and Cedep said.

The statement has been signed by respective executive directors of the two organisations, Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence.

The two observed that the fire had denied the area’s constituents and Malawians in general to know  the truth on who was the legitimate winner and urged the police to exercise their utmost professionalism and integrity when investigating the matter.

At the time of the fire, armed police officers were reportedly at the scene and did nothing as the suspected arsonists jumped into a waiting Toyota Carina vehicle with a red number plate.

According to security guards around the premises the warehouse was gutted by four unknown people who reportedly identified themselves as governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) monitors while one said was from the National Intelligence Services (NIS).

Among the materials destroyed during the fire include several of the gas cylinders and lamps which Malawi borrowed from Zimbabwe and a total of 1,500 ballot boxes as well as generators, furniture and stationery.

MEC’s Chief Elections Officer Willie Kalonga has since said that the commission is regarding the incident as a normal fire until the cause is established following thorough investigations.

“The Commission in conjunction with relevant authorities is trying to establish the cause of the fire and the nation will be informed in due course. The cost of the materials damaged is also yet to be established,” said Kalonga.

The fire is said to have started at around 24.00hrs on July 14, 2014.

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