MEC’s bias, voters roll mess and Epiphania: Malawi elections 2014

Two things in a space of 24 hours, two bad pieces of news flowing hot on each other’s heels within a day.

Yes, you guessed right: the institution involved, the one institution that can manage this feat is the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), the body charged and mandated to conduct free and fair elections in Malawi.

First, courts have reversed the “childish” and one-sided barring of University Lecturers who are on unpaid leave.

As a result, the illegally barred contestants are back in the race to May 20; one as a presidential contestant, and the other two as parliamentary candidates.

We want to ask: what was too complicated about the legitimacy of their candidature, when the legitimacy of presidential aides was not seen as an issue?

We will, for now, leave this at that.

Second is the chaos in the voters roll inspection exercise. Chaos, which from the look of things is the result of either:

MEC’s failure to process the Voters roll with the due care and diligence it deserves, or

Deliberate fiddling with the roll to give one contestant an unfair advantage.

No other way out, one of these two, or a combination of both, is why MEC has had to cancel the voter verification exercise.

Before proceeding, a little bit of our history, revolving around the 2004 election is in order.

Epiphania Bonjesi would have turned twenty this year.

However, she died in the aftermath of the violence that followed allegations of rigging in the election that brought late President Bingu wa Mutharika to power.

We were lucky in 2004. Little and innocent Epiphania bled for all of us, and she died for all of us.

Are we going to be so “lucky” again in 2014? Or rather, how many Epiphanias does MEC want this time around to prove that they can indeed conduct “free and fair elections”?

“The Malawi Electoral Commission regrets to advise that due to logistical challenges and inadequacies in the preliminary voters’ roll it has decided to suspend the voters’ roll inspection exercise,” reads the non-apologetic statement from MEC, continuing to dare say: “all stakeholders are being assured of the highest commitment by the commission to hold a credible tripartite election on May 20, 2014.”

What a load!

Everyone, except the Malawi Electoral Commissioners and management knew that Professor Chisi, Mr Mathews Ngwale and Dr Jessie Kabwila’s cases were straight-forward: they should not have been barred.

Again, every one, except the Malawi Electoral Commissioners, was aware that presidential advisors should have been barred without batting an eye, especially since by the time they presented their nomination papers, they had not resigned.

Never mind the back-dated resignations and acceptances thereof; everyone knows that all the resignations and acceptances thereof have been retroactive, in yet another act of deception by a government that finds doing the right thing an abomination.

Faces of Wakuda Kamanga, Malani Mtonga and McDonald Sembereka were not supposed to grace ballot papers in a country where the rule of law applies.

They submitted nomination papers whilst employed by government and enjoying all the perks footed by the tax-payer and while still “advising” or “aiding” – whatever this entails – the president.

Reportedly, even the running mate to President Joyce Banda has been carrying on in his previous role as minister and hence should also be disqualified. MEC of course cannot even ponder this.

But what does MEC do? MEC makes a storm of out a cup of tea (re: the lecturers) while turning as blind as a bat with respect to the presidential aides.

All this happening under the ‘supposed’ watch of a Justice of Appeal of the Supreme Court would have been ironic and embarrassing if elections were a small matter. But elections, especially mismanaged ones, have often triggered bloodshed and the Justice of Appeal if he is not up to it; he should ‘recuse himself’.

And then, (hear this) MEC has the nerve to say “all stakeholders are being assured of the highest commitment by the commission to hold a credible tripartite election on May 20, 2014.”

Two things are clear: either MEC should school us as to the true meaning of the word “credible” or they should not insult the word. Come to think of it, “MEC” and “credibility” should not, under the circumstances, be written on the same page. Writing them on the same page is an effrontery to the word “credibility”.

With respect to the voters roll mess, given the above bias; it is clear that the bugling is not because MEC has unskilled IT gurus, no. We know them, we know their qualifications and capabilities, and therefore we know that if they had wished, they could have done a good job.

Problem is: doing a good job will level the playing field, hence their throwing away professionalism and patriotism to the dogs; to mess up the voters roll when shuffling voters around to disenfranchise opposition strong holds, while inflating numbers of the areas that have been demarcated as rigging points or even creating the two million votes that the incumbent is said to already have secured; hence the claims to a “landslide”.

All this is alarming. This is more than disgraceful and should have, in a decent society, seen someone resigning or fired. In the least MEC owes unreserved apologies for the trauma caused to Professor Chisi, Mr Mathews Ngwale and Dr Jessie Kabwila.

But this being Malawi, we know that neither the chairperson nor commissioners can resign of their own free will. The same applies to the Chief Elections Officer – who should not have been re-appointed at MEC – if MEC was ever to conduct a free and fair election.

To wind up, had MEC commissioners and management been spineless, we would have found it forgivable. Had they been uneducated, we would have found the voters roll mess MEC bearable. Had MEC been poorly funded for the Voters Registration exercise, we would have understood the mess.

But truth is: MEC commissioners and management are people of above average education, yet here they are leading the commission as if they have never seen a blackboard. Imagine this: even after spending a fortune on the voter registration exercise, they cannot prepare a simple list (with people’s faces) and have the people verify their names and faces.

This is too complicated for MEC. Oh, this is rocket science, MEC is saying! What then was the whole point of the voters’ registration?

We, at the Nyasa Times, find it repugnant that tax-payers money spent during the Voters Registration exercise and on salaries of MEC personnel has been spent in vain, at the expense of buying medicine in hospitals.

We find it totally unacceptable that MEC, despite the blatant bias, incompetence and acute deficiency of judgement; still has the nerve to climb an anti-hill and say: “all stakeholders are being assured of the highest commitment by the commission to hold a credible tripartite election on May 20, 2014.”

The good thing is: Malawians are no longer asleep and Nyasa Times’ lenses are 24/7 zoomed on Malawi. Epiphania Bonjesi’s blood flowed from the Electoral Commissioners’ chamber, and Malawians will not let that happen this year as we commemorate ten years of Epiphania’s untimely demise.

To Justice Mbendera, Willie Kalonga and company we want to say: do the right thing for once, for the sake of peace and stability. And know that greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.

There will never be enough money to satisfy greed. May God watch over Malawi and deliver us from man-made strife.

And may the soul of Epiphania Bonjesi rest in peace.

We rest our case.

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