Organised chaos– the case of Malawi 2014 elections

Malaŵi on 20 May, 2014 was supposed to hold tripartite elections. Now for the record tripartite means in our context, a three-way election viz: president, parliamentarians and councillors. However the country has now given the term new meaning; “a three-day election”. How a one day election in a small country ends up being 3 days is what I call organised chaos or what magicians call misdirection. Every time this happens, it is important that one takes a step back and analyses who is benefitting from the chaos.

Blame it on the internet connected mobile phone if you will but the 2014 elections were like a live soap. Pictures were uploaded constantly on Facebook and Whatsup. Problems were broadcasting for all to see! It seemed like a deliberate botched up job had been carefully planned to fail. And we almost fell for it!

In 2008 I was part of the SADC Observer Mission in Zimbabwe. There Robert Mugabe had disfranchised the urban population and somehow managed to be sworn in as president despite the poll showing he lost! What happened here gave me an uneasy sense of de javu. It looked all too similar. It was like someone had read the Zimbabwe script and had adopted it for the Malaŵian voters. But that is where they may have miscalculated. Except for a few cases, people exercised restraint. The EC also insisted that everyone should exercise their right to cast their vote. This was criticised but in the circumstances it may have been the lesser of the two evils.

Rioters in Mangochi
Rioters in Mangochi

And to me this is where the election may have conclusively been decided. Hitherto the margins may have been close but this was the clincher! The people who went to vote on the 2nd and 3rd day were clearly an angry lot!

Now by midnight of 20 May, 2014, it was clear president Joyce Banda (JB) had suffered a crushing defeat and the PP too. On the contrary, the DPP and the MC) seemed to be on the ascendancy. But it was clear from the start Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM) was man of the moment! To me it is obvious that by this time, all the parties had by an idea of how they had performed. I truly believe that by the midnight of 20 May, 2014, JB knew for a fact that she had lost (and APM had won), APM knew that he had won and Rev Lazarus Chakwera knew he was a close second. Even Atupele Muluzi, him of the ung’ono ung’ono fame knew that he had come out last of the big four.

Rigging rumours

These started making the rounds in the morning of 21st May, 2014. They were lend some credence by the ‘stunning’ performance of APM in constituencies he was considered weak and by the underperformance of JB and the PP in the centre and south and of AM and the UDF.

But did Afrobarometer not forewarn us? I have never known Afrobarometer to be wrong. Not to be outdone, JB decides to turn on the heat. She goes on radio and announces that she is making a proclamation annulling the elections and the nation should vote again in 3 months. Rightly the proclamation was stayed by the court.

But then all this could have fizzled out if the EC had not joined in the fray. What happened next is what I called the “Elections debacle”. The EC went on radio and stated that there were glaring and serious irregularities that warranted a decision to quarantine results of some centres. This statement was revealing. Any election always has irregularities and anomalies. But when these are glaring and serious, then there is cause for concern.

Of recounting

Then the EC announced that it would hold a recount and then the injunction battle started. Injunctions were being granted and discharged so fast that most Malaŵians were left confused. Reminds me of the advert; “confused-dot-com”.

In all this hullabaloo, the EC was gagged and caged. Some of us argued that the EC should be left to do its job; announce the results and let the Chief Justice swear in the president-elect. I remember saying “akakaniza stadium, let it be done at the High Court”.

Courts are public places and the presidential swearing-in ceremony, is traditionally done and witnessed at a public place.

In conclusion, some us are wary of bringing lawyers and using the law to solve political problems. It is what is called juridfication of what is clearly a political process. Let our leaders be decided by the vote not the court.

The election had interesting moments, but maybe the most fitting closure was the excellent and articulate speech made by Justice Mbendera JA, SC, chair of the EC. Now there is a voice one likes hearing. Authority, clarity and cogency. It gives me hope for the future.

The heralding of a new dawn?

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