The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) yesterday started dispatching ballot papers from Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) to district councils escorted by armed Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers.
In a telephone interview, MEC commissioner Jean Mathanga said that the electoral body distributed ballot papers to 10 districts nationwide by close of business yesterday.
Of the 10, Nkhotakota was the only district in the Central Region that received ballot papers. Other districts which had their ballot papers supplied are Chikwawa, Nsanje, Neno and Mwanza in the Southern Region, while all Northern Region districts except Likoma Island have also received them.
The ballot papers will be airlifted to the island by Saturday, according to Mathanga.
She said: “An MDF Donier will be serving Likoma Island while a helicopter will serve the whole Northern Region to distribute papers where vehicles cannot reach. South African Defence Force [Sadf] helicopters will be serving some parts of the Southern and Eastern regions.”
The dispatch exercise continued overnight, a development that would see more districts councils receiving ballot papers by this morning.
At district level, the distribution of ballot papers will continue to polling centres also with the aid of the MDF and two Sadf helicopters.
MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika said in a separate interview the electoral body made a deliberate move to have ballot papers distributed to first to the farthest districts to avoid hiccups that may arise during distribution to polling centres.
He said: “The best thing that we thought of is to distribute ballot papers in time. So, we have began with farthest areas and we will finish with districts which are near. In terms of some areas which are hard to reach, we have already made arrangements to use helicopters to ensure every polling station gets materials in time.”
Alfandika added that the commission now has all the 2 000 vehicles required for transportation of materials.
On security of the ballot papers, he said 600 MDF soldiers have been deployed to guard warehouses where ballot papers will be kept until voting day on Tuesday.
In 2014, the electoral process was marred by logistical challenges, especially in areas which were deemed as opposition strongholds.
But in an earlier interview, Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) chairperson Steve Duwa played down fears that some polling centres may not receive ballot papers in time.
He said MEC has made efforts to ensure that materials are dispatched to polling centres and has also addressed concerns that were raised in one of the electoral stakeholders’ meetings after 2014 polls.
The commission has started distributing of non-sensitive polling materials, including ballot boxes and ballot booths, among others.
It decentralised packaging of the materials which has also made distribution of the materials to the councils easy.
On Tuesday this week, MEC chairperson Jane Ansah said distribution of other materials was decentralised and that the process had already started.
She said: “At the council, the materials are being kept in secure warehouses under armed police guard until the day of dispatch to the polling stations. So far the exercise is going on smoothly. The councils are also verifying the materials received to ensure that they are in right order and quantity.”
Between today and tomorrow, the materials, together with ballot papers, will be moved from the councils to the polling centres.
Mathanga said inspection and verification of distributed materials will done next on Monday to ensure that everything is in the right order before voting starts at 6am on Tuesday.
In interviews on Tuesday this week, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party, officials hailed MEC for demonstrating commitment to ensure that the elections are held in a fair, credible and transparent manner.