Delayed delivery of voting materials, including ballot papers for the May 21 Tripartite Elections yesterday marred the pre-inspection exercise of the materials the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) organised.
Initially, the exercise was scheduled to start at 9am in the 5 002 polling centres in the 193 constituencies nationwide and to be witnessed by representatives of political parties, monitors as well as local and international observers.
But, contrary to a statement released on Saturday and signed by MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika indicating 9am as the starting time, the exercise started after mid-day in most centres visited.
In Blantyre City, presiding officer for Kanjedza Primary School centre Nellie Nkhomba said by 11am the materials were yet to be delivered and that there was no communication from MEC.
It was the same situation at several other centres in Blantyre, the home of MEC headquarters. Visibly frustrated monitors were seen sitting helplessly around the centres.
The centres that conducted the verification by 1pm included Ntonda Primary School in Blantyre Rural, Naotcha, Zingwangwa and Chimwankhunda primary schools in Blantyre City South Constituency.
At Chichiri Primary School centre, a MEC truck was seen delivering the materials at 4.30pm. However, most party monitors were not in sight as only polling staff and security personnel were seen on site.
Commenting on the delays, MEC commissioner responsible for electoral services Jean Mathanga, in a telephone interview, conceded the delays, but downplayed their impact on the exercise.
She said: “The delays are not necessarily due lack of transport. We noted that some areas were allocated more security persons than others.
“Therefore, it was not possible to dispatch sensitive materials such as ballot papers without a guarantee of security. What this means [is that] today some centres will continue with pre-inspection.”
In Zomba, most centres also received the materials after 12 noon. At Zomba CCAP polling centre, the presiding officer said the verification exercise will be conducted from 6am on Monday.
Chinamwali San Centre is also scheduled to open at 8.30am today for the verification exercise. Presiding officers at several other centres visited also indicated they would undertake the exercise this morning.
In Salima, the exercise was delayed by at least six hours because some centres had not received the materials, especially the sensitive voting materials—the ballot papers.
By 4pm, some centres in Salima were yet to get the materials.
In Nkhotakota, off-loading of polling materials at Thale 1 and 2 primary schools in Nkhotakota South Constituency delayed because presiding officers arrived late to receive the materials.
The incident prompted security officers manning the materials to wait for an hour to off-load the polling materials.
In three other constituencies in Nkhotakota, polling materials were delivered by 2pm, according to district returning officer who is also district commissioner (DC) Medson Matchaya who was upbeat the exercise would be finalised by close of business yesterday.
Spot-checks in Lilongwe established that materials were not yet delivered by afternoon hours and Lilongwe district commissioner Lawford Palani said all centres would take delivery of both sensitive and non-sensitive polling materials by the time inspection today.
In the Northern Region, the exercise faced mixed fortunes as some districts made progress by completing the distribution and inspection yesterday while others are expected to wind up today.
In Nkhata Bay, materials had been dispatched to constituency tally centres by yesterday, but DC Rodney Simwaka said the materials will be taken to polling centres today.
In Mzimba, DC Thomas Chirwa also said they had distributed all materials to constituency tally centres in Mzimba South and inspection had taken place by close of business yesterday.
However, he said the process of taking the materials to polling centres was ongoing and that inspection at these centres will be taking place today.
A visit to Ekwendeni Community Day Secondary School centre in Mzimba North found electoral stakeholders inspecting the materials. The centre was scheduled to receive 20 ballot books, containing 2 000 ballot papers, but got 1 500 papers each for the three elections.
However, presiding officer Ntchachi Mwandira played down the anomaly, saying the centre only had around 1 300 registered voters; hence, the 1 500 ballot papers were enough.
In Chitipa, DC Humphreys Gondwe said the distribution of electoral materials was moving on smoothly while Karonga district elections officer Steve Ndau said the process was expected to be concluded yesterday. n
(Additional ANDREW NYONDO, GIFT CHIMULU, DAVIE MCHINGA and HOLYCE KHOLOWA)