Four days to the court-sanctioned fresh presidential election, challenges—including the status of four commissioners and funding—stand in the way, but Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is positive the election will proceed on June 23.
MEC chairperson Chifundo Kachale and his team had a busy day yesterday striving to find ways to overcome the challenges to ensure smooth conduct of the court-sanctioned election after the nullification of the May 21 2019 presidential election over irregularities, especially in the results management system.
But, while there now appears light at the end of the tunnel on funding, the electoral body is faced with a new hurdle. Four of its six commissioners—Arthur Nanthuru, Jean Mathanga, Linda Kunje and Steve Duwa—are facing a legal challenge regarding their appointment, according to Kachale who is a judge of the High Court of Malawi.
While in the morning he was flanked by a full team at the National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting, during the evening press conference at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe Kachale was accompanied by two commissioners only—Anthony Mukumbwa and Olivia Liwewe.
He said the four personally communicated to him that they needed to seek legal advice on how to proceed in view of the court application by Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera earlier in the week seeking a judicial review on their appointment.
But Kachale clarified: “They have not stopped working, but they are simply consulting their legal counsels. The view of our [MEC] legal department is that even with the court issue, they [the commissioners] can still continue working.”
The development summed up what had started as a bad day for the electoral body which had reported to the Necof meeting in Lilongwe that it had received 37 percent of the key resources needed to hold the poll in four days.
Kachale—appointed to the task on June 7 this year—told the meeting that the electoral body had only received K9.3 billion or 31 percent of the K29.1 billion fresh election allocation in the 2019/20 National Budget.
He admitted it would be a tall order to hold the election under the circumstances. Besides funding, vehicles to facilitate delivery of electoral materials were also in short supply.
Fast-forward to the afternoon, Kachale and his team attended a high-level ‘crisis’ meeting at Parliament Building with Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Joseph Mwanamvekha, Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) Governor Dalitso Kabambe, Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet Lloyd Muhara, Clerk of Parliament Fiona Kalemba, chairpersons of parliamentary committees (Legal Affairs, Public Accounts as well as Budget and Finance) and other dignitaries.
From this meeting, the MEC chair could afford a smile after government committed to disburse K10 billion to the electoral body. The amount would put actual allocation for the election at K19 billion, leaving a deficit of another K10 billion on the K29 billion allocation in the Mid-Year Budget as revised in February this year.
Briefing journalists outside Parliament Building, he stressed that the fresh presidential election will be held as gazetted.
Kachale said: “As MEC, we are committed to deliver the election on the gazetted date unless somebody gives us another date… That’s not our mandate. Tomorrow [Friday] we are going to KIA [Kamuzu International Airport] for the [the arrival of] ballot papers.”
He said government has since committed to disburse K10 billion by 10am today. The MEC chairperson said the money was supposed to be made available last week.
On the balance, Kachale said: “In total, they would have funded K19 billion of the appropriated K29 billion. We should be expected to get the other funds in due course.”
In a letter dated June 18 2020, apparently written after the high-level meeting, Mwanamvekha formalised the request for funds from RBM to ease the funding gap.
Reads the letter in part: “Considering the current cash-flow challenges that government is facing, I kindly request the bank to advance K10 billion to government to be transferred electronically to MEC for value date today, 18th June 2020.”
MEC had previously pegged the fresh election budget at K38 billion, but government, in the 2019/20 Mid-Year Budget Review, allocated K29 billion.
In terms of vehicles to facilitate delivery of materials, MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika last evening reported an improvement as out of the required 386 trucks, there was a shortfall of 65. He also said there was a deficit of about 1 067 station wagon vehicles out of the required 2 446.
He said MEC will also need 20 boats, but has six at its disposal from Malawi Police Service.
During the Necof meeting, Kachale also asked political leaders to help send the right message across on the management of results. He said it is not correct to suggest that district commissioners (DCs) will take results to the main tally centre in Blantyre without giving copies of the district totals to monitors at district level.
He also said MEC will not entertain any pressure in the counting of votes and announcing the winner, saying: “The commission has put in place all measures to ensure that it announces the winner in good time. As long as we are within the eight days, no one should complain that we are delaying releasing the results.”
Meanwhile, ballot papers are expected to arrive today and distribution will start immediately to the 193 parliamentary constituencies through district councils.