Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera’s fourth witness Anthony Bendulo has presented “compelling evidence” of rigging to subvert the will of the people by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) IT officers turning some valid votes of Chakwera and UTM president Saulos Chilima into null-and-void votes and favour first respondent President Peter Mutharika in the disputed presidential results of the May 21 polls.
Chilima and Chakwera – first and second petitioners respectively – are challenging the presidential election results in court, seeking nullification of the results and an order for -re-run.
Bendulo, who worked as an IT analyst for MCP during the May elections, used Sankhani Polling Centre, in Mchinji District, as an example of the alleged rigging to subvert democracy.
“The polling station of Sankhani in Mchinji West had 815 registered voters and that, according to the procedure the station, was supposed to have two streams. Looking at page 419, which is a Form 66C that the second respondent (Mec) attached in their system, looking at the candidate scores or candidate votes, it shows that Dr Lazarus Chakwera got 173 votes on Stream One and 178 votes on Stream Two and a total summation of that station, according to this tally sheet, for Dr Chakwera was 351.
“Dr Saulos Chilima got 51 in Stream One and 32 in Stream Two and a total summation of 83 votes,” he said.
The witness said the form further shows that Peter Mutharika got 52 votes in Stream One and 34 votes in Stream Two, adding up to 86 votes.
Bendulo – a self-style computer expert – claimed that from the total summation of 524 votes cast at the centre, 175 votes were removed and the votes allegedly stolen from Chakwera and Chilima were transferred to null and void votes, which, in reality, should have been only two and that it was paradoxical Mutharika’s 86 votes were not tampered with, as captured from the polling.
According to Bendulo’s presentation, the MEC system at the tally centre showed 699 as the total number of votes cast and from that figure, 524 were null and void ballot papers, thereby translating to only 175 total valid votes that the seven presidential candidates shared at the centre.
He told the five-judge panel of the High Court sitting as a Constitutional Court: : “This was not a mere error, but rigging because the officers of the second respondent (MEC) did not stop at just entering wrong data, but they also adjusted the figures so that they should match with the data they had wrongly entered.”
Bendulo was presenting his evidence during re-examination by Chakwera’s lead lawyer Mordecai Msiska, and said there was no spoiled or cancelled ballot, according to Form 66C, adding that, on each stream, there was one null-and-void vote, making it two null-and-void papers.
“According to this Form 66C, the number of cast ballot papers which were found in the box was totalling to 526 which was demarcated into 277 for Stream One and the ballot box for Stream Two they had 249 votes,” he said.
According to Bendulo, entering the results into the Mec electronic system at the Constituency Tally Centre demanded the first ICT officer logs into the system and capture the results exactly and every other component of the tally sheet the way it was and scan the Form 66C.
He added that, once the first IT officer completed the capturing, he or she was supposed to log out and a second IT officer was supposed to take the same tally sheet and enter the results as they appeared on Form 66C.
He said the system had the intelligence that if the figures entered by the first and second ICT officers matched, it was capturing that as a result and there where the two officers entered different figures, the system was prompting them to start again until the results were matching.
“If the second ICT officer was satisfied and the system has successfully captured, the ICT officer would print out a form, that is the digital Form 66C, and would log out and would give the printed copy to an auditor at that polling station, so that they could verify what had been entered into the system against the handwritten tally sheet from the presiding officer.
“Once the auditor is satisfied that the figures and everything was the same, he would log out and one of the ICT officers would log in again and command transmission of the results to the National Tally Centre. It meant the documents had been seen by people, four times,” Bendulo said.
He said it was astonishing to note that the officials entered in their system that Chakwera got 83 votes instead of 351.
“All these four people entered it like that. And the results for Dr Saulos Chilima, for both Stream One and Stream Two had been reduced from 83 to one. But if you go to page 419 and look at the results for Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, it was totalling to 86 for both Stream One and Stream Two. And if you go to page 420, you would see that in the system the results for Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika were entered exactly the way they were entered on Form 66 on page 419.
“For me to say that this is not a mere error but this is rigging, it is because the officers of the second respondent did not just stop at entering wrong data but they also adjusted figures so that they could match with the data they wrongly entered. If you see on page 419, the total valid of votes cast, if you do the summation of all the seven candidates was 524.
“But if you see on the dashboard on page 420, you will see that the number of total valid votes was reduced to 175 and the votes that were taken from both Dr Lazarus Chakwera and Dr Saulos Chilima were then transferred to null-and-void votes. Now, on the null-and-void votes, we are having 524 votes,” he said.