Former DPP Minister Ben Phiri faces arrest over 2019 elections tippex

One time powerful government top dog and high-ranking senior official in erstwhile ruling party, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Ben Phiri will soon face justice over his role during the annulled 2019 Presidential poll as he allegedly to be the one behind the procurement and supplying of correctional fluid known as Tippex across the country for deliberate manipulation of results.

Nyasa Times has learnt that investigations into the matter by Malawi Police in conjunction with Malawi Electoral Commission have found that Phiri led a team of DPP officials to prepare paperwork and mobilize finances for the purchase of the fluid.

Ben Phiri: Faces arrest

“As the party’s national director of elections, the Thyolo Central constituency lawmaker was at the centre of distribution of the Tippex consignments to selected districts and areas which had been mapped by the party for vote tampering and manipulation,” said a highly placed police source privy to the investigations.

Added the source: ” All fingers of evidence points at Ben Phiri as regards the tippex that was used during the 2019 annulled presidential election. He will be arrested anytime now.”

Police sources say the investigation they have carried out since 2020 shows that there were deliberate underhand machinations by the former cabinet minister, Ben Phiri, and a network of election presiding officers and monitors to impede the outcome of that 2019 election.

Malawi Police in February this year launched a criminal investigation after its prosecution team appreciated the deep irregularities highlighted in the initial judgment by the High Court sitting as a constitutional court on February 3, 2020 and the upholding of the same by the Supreme Court of Appeal three months later.

The 2019 Presidential election was marred by wanton irregularities orchestrated by election officials who erased, replaced and altered figures to legitimate results as way of manipulating the outcome in favour of Peter Mutharika.

The then Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) led by retired judge, Justice Dr. Jane Mayemu Ansah endorsed the result, giving Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika and his running mate, Everton Chimulirenji, victory over Malawi Congress Party’s Lazarus Chakwera and his running mate UTM’s Saulos Chilima fronting as Tonse Alliance.

It had to take a legal challenge by Chakwera and Chilima at the High Court for these irregularities to be contested and subsequently quashed leading to the annulment of the whole process.

The High Court ordered a fresh poll, which eventually took place on June 20, 2020 whose winner was President Lazarus Chakwera as torchbearer of Tonse Alliance.

Phiri’s arrest will come months after Police initiated arrests of people involved in the electoral misdeed.

This year alone the law enforcement agency has arrested a host of teachers who served as presiding officers in Mzuzu and Lilongwe for vote tampering.

In the Elections case, the judges did not rule that the election was stolen but they simply said the evidence of rigging was so widespread and blatant that “the integrity of the result was severely compromised”.

It was an important distinction.

In essence, the judges argued that Malawians deserve, and should expect, an A- grade election – not perfect, perhaps, but free of systemic abuse.

“Malawians should not have to make do with the more familiar C+ election that some nations and institutions still seem to tolerate or encourage,” the judges said in the landmark and historic ruling which attracted a global applause.

Secondly, the court directed Malawi’s parliament to consider recalling the current electoral commission to “ensure smooth conduct of fresh elections”.

In so doing, they sent a signal that the supposedly neutral bureaucrats in charge of organising such flawed elections should be thrown out.

They also implied that a slap on the wrist was not enough, and that Malawi’s precious democratic institutions needed to be properly defended.

This was an important blow against a widespread culture of impunity.

Nationwide protests were held in May, June, and July 2019 in which supporters of the opposition accused the results of being rigged by Mutharika and Jane Ansah, chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission, calling for Ansah’s resignation.

Malawian youth organised a “Jane Ansah Must Fall” campaign, which included days of protests in several cities.

In response, thousands of women in Malawi held “I am Jane Ansah” solidarity protests after alleging that Ansah was the victim of gender discrimination.

On 3 February 2020, the Constitutional Court judges arrived in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, to read the disputed presidential election results judgement after travelling in a military vehicle with a heavy police escort.

The judges took turns to read the 500-page decision over more than seven hours.

The ruling nullified the results of the presidential election, concluding they had not met the standards of a free and fair election and that the Malawi Electoral Commission had failed to uphold its constitutional responsibilities.

The judgement cited tampering of results, failure to address complaints raised by opposition candidates, and numerous other malpractices.

The ruling also called into question the use of a plurality system in the presidential elections, stating the Malawi Constitution requires a majority of votes.

Mutharika was declared not duly elected and thus no longer President.

The five judges, who later won an award from the UK’s leading democracy and governance institution, Chatham House, ordered fresh elections be held within 150 days.

Although DPP won plurality of seats, elections in three of the seats it won were annulled due to irregularities, and thus they were reduced to 59 lawmakers in the Parliament.

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