State House: The state of 2014 tripartite elections in Malawi

Political developments in the past few days have been challenging to Malawians and have put to test the country’s democracy and governance institutions.

These developments, however, have to be put into context. Her Excellency Dr Joyce Banda has always been committed to issues of democracy, good governance and transparent Government since her accession to the Presidency on 7th April 2012. The President pursued an inclusive, open and participatory Government that respected the Constitution and the rule of law. The same spirit has been demonstrated in the run-up to the elections, when she levelled the political playing field to all political parties.

The President and her Government has managed to heal the country from previous tension and divisions; recovered the economy from near collapse and laid strong foundation for sustainable growth. The President opened up the public broadcaster, Malawi BroadcastingCorporation (MBC) to all political players; she did not use the state machinery at her disposal to block, interfere, threaten or ban political activities of all contesting parties as has been the trend since 1994.

Malawi's electoral authorities said they would reopen ballot boxes after finding evidence of irregularities
Malawi’s electoral authorities said they would reopen ballot boxes after finding evidence of irregularities

Malawians ought to remember that previous administrations used District Commissioners and Police to achieve these unacceptable acts. Even though some opposition parties instigated political violence in some instances, Her Excellency Dr Joyce Banda always urged her supporters to remain calm and refrain from violence. As a matter of ensuring that the
Tripartite Elections were credible, she consulted all major political stakeholders in constituting the Malawi Electoral Commission. Indeed, the Electoral Commission is inclusive of all major political parties that were represented in Parliament.

During her two-year tenure of office, Dr Joyce Banda ensured that Malawi should be and it really is among the most media friendly countries in Africa where freedom of expression is not suppressed. Reputable international commentators have named Malawi as the most media friendly country in Africa.

Prior to the polling date, some opposition elements and some ill-willed commentators propagated in the media that Her Excellency Dr Joyce Banda and her People’s Party (PP) were planning to rig the elections.

However, in a meeting with the Faith Community Leaders, Her Excellency emphasized that neither PP nor her government had any intention to rig the elections. However, those propagating this were in fact trying to drive people’s attention away from their own evil intentions to rig the elections by creating a false impression that the ruling party was planning to rig the elections.

Under Her Excellency’s leadership, the country experienced peaceful voting though with some instances where polling materials were not delivered on time or inadequate. In other cases, wrong materials were delivered. This led to some isolated cases of violence in some parts of Blantyre and Lilongwe, for example, which in turn led to voting being
extended to next two days.

Notwithstanding that voting was continuing for the next two days in some polling centres, the media accredited by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) continued to announce the unofficial results while voting was still progressing in the said affected areas. Although many stakeholders demanded that official broadcasters stop announcing the unofficial results
while voting was still on-going, announcements continued nevertheless.

There have been reports that some monitors in some polling centres were chased by police and MEC officials, mainly teachers and police officers, even before sealing of ballot papers while in other cases a systematic pattern was emerging that polling staff were influencing voters to vote for certain candidates.

These polling officers, mainly teachers and police officers, have now been exposed some of whom have confessed that they were induced with monetary rewards by a certain Presidential candidate. With the foregoing in mind, it was not surprising when revelations of serious
irregularities started emerging; these irregularities had mostly four (4) patterns.

Tallies from some constituencies were deliberately altered where figures were inflated to favour certain candidates as in Machinga North East where 38,778 registered voters were recorded while the tally was purposely inflated to purport that 184,223 had voted,
figures inflated in favour of a particular candidate; (evidence available);

Tallies from polling centres where figures were deliberately erased, tippexed, configured and accordingly adjusted to favour certain candidates, (evidence available);

Purported locally printed ballot papers without security features were pre-marked for a certain candidate and staffed in washing baskets, plastic pails and cartons and were ferried to polling centres while monitors were financially induced by polling officers to leave the
polling centres while counting progressed. Most of these tallies were not signed and counter-signed by the monitors as required, (evidence available);

Some Presiding Officers from one polling centre signed for three different polling centres and in all cases, the figures for a certain candidate were almost the same.

As these challenges were becoming apparent, it was learnt that the Information Management System designed to manage elections results was hacked into and crushed. The election stakeholders started raising alarm and the following were raised;

a) That announcing of the unofficial results be discontinued,

b) That the Electoral Commission embarks on manual counting and verification to address the irregularities as presented by electoral stakeholders.

To add to these voices, Her Excellency the President called upon Malawi Electoral Commission to recount the votes and address the irregularities that had been registered by the stakeholders.

The Malawi Electoral Commission Chairman rudely responded to these calls as “Cries of losers” and disregarded all the complaints as raised by political parties and other electoral stakeholders. Soon thereafter, wide revelations of rampant and serious irregularities in the electoral process started flooding the public domain.

It then became public knowledge that indeed the electoral process had been defrauded. Despite this public outcry and threats of violence from some political parties, the Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson was intransigent, insensitive and non-responsive
to the unfolding events.

At this time, it became apparent that the Malawi Electoral Commission had lost control of their own process; were not able to provide leadership in announcement of results and had lost control of election data notwithstanding that accredited media were still announcing
the unofficial results and that tension was brewing in the country.

At this point, Electoral Stakeholders including some Presidential candidates approached the President, Her Excellency Dr Joyce Banda to rise above politics and provide direction for the country. Hence, Her Excellency the President issued a Presidential Proclamation on Saturday 24th May 2014,four days after voting to nullify the electoral process due to serious
irregularities that had emerged and the State President determined that fresh elections be held in 90 days.

Her Excellency The State President used the powers vested in her, under Section 88 (2) to provide Executive Direction in the interest of national unity and security. The immediate reaction to this proclamation by certain sectors of the society who felt were going to benefit from the serious electoral irregularities was negative.

However, four hours after the proclamation, the Malawi Electoral Commission came public to address the nation admitting that the electoral process could indeed not be relied upon, and the electoral data could was not trustworthy and therefore could not provide a credible platform for announcement of results.

Secondly, the Commission requested the nation to give them an allowance of 30 days to physically verify the ballot papers and conduct the recount of the votes to remedy the many irregularities the Commission had come across.

This admission by the Commission vindicated the Presidential Proclamation that had just been issued and further comforted the public as it was now evident that the Commission had started listening and acting in the national interest.

In a similar show of support, one of the broadcasting houses that was accredited to announce the election results, Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), five hours after the proclamation, went public retracting that the electoral results they were announcing were unverified, could not be relied upon hence should be disregarded.

It became evident that the Presidential Proclamation had calmed the citizens and it brought hope of a peaceful and credible resolution to the irregularities of the electoral process.

Despite the public excitement that this development brought to the nation, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and their network obtained three injunctions restraining Malawi Electoral Commission from proceeding with the recounting and verification exercise.

Malawi Electoral Commission and Malawi Law Society also obtained injunctions against the President’s Proclamation. These many injunctions brought confusion to the direction of
the whole electoral process and demonstrated that the credibility of the electoral process had been destroyed leaving the expectations of Malawians heavily eroded.

After extensive public debate and Stakeholders’ consultations, Malawi Electoral Commission announced to the nation on 26th May 2014 that they are convinced that the data available could be relied upon and therefore will not announce the results of the elections until a full recount and verification had been done; they further announced that they will take 30 days to carry out this exercise. This announcement by the Commission brought comfort and relief to the Malawi populace that the call by Her Excellency The President Dr Joyce Banda was now being heeded to.

Despite this new welcoming decision by Malawi Electoral Commission, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is still bent on frustrating this development which has been thoroughly discussed and agreed upon by Election Stakeholders and welcomed by the whole nation.

The question in the people’s minds is why is the DPP still refusing the welcome development accepted by all stakeholders? If indeed the DPP has won legitimately, why not wait for the audit process to finish so that they form the next government on a clean sheet? Reference can be made to several commentaries and expert opinion some of which are attached.

*State House Press Office

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