Before the election dust settles allow me dear reader to republish this article which I wrote on August 2018. I think, as you digest the loss and victory, it remains relevant to the election discourse.
When the Vice-President spoke about the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) alleged plans to rig [this] year’s elections, many of his critics, especially from the blue camp, dismissed the claim as one of his many stunts to woo support to his newly-launched UTM.
But we, on the streets, believe that the veep should not be dismissed outright, after all, who can trust the DPP-led government anyway? These people can steal anything, including our wives!
I digress. But my point is; allegations of misconduct during elections should put us all on our guard. That’s why, we on the streets, ask the government machinery and the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to take these concerns seriously and investigate because electoral coups and rigging come in many forms.
This week, my Kenyan friend Fidel, helped me to do a simple Internet research to find out how rigging can be carried out. In Kenya, conspirators identified strategic locus or loci of State power, for example, the security apparatus, State broadcaster and parastatals which they infiltrated and controlled during and post-campaign periods.
Those in the know say that people who steal elections use these centres of power to acquire the remaining levers of State machinery, and eventually the State.
Whether they succeed or not election riggers are able to create and sustain a perception of victory once they have seized a strategic locus of State power.
Another tool electoral coup plotters use is to deploy threat or use of violence against those who may resist them. They carefully identify their friends as well as their enemies and opponents whose capacity for resistance must be sabotaged or neutralised sequentially or simultaneously. If buying the youth beer so that they do not attend opposition political rallies is one of such tools, then what is it? If camping outside UTM’s interim secretary general Patricia Kaliati’s house at Nkando is not part of intimidation, then what is it?
Ladies and gentlemen, electoral coups can also be messy and in some people adopt military warfare techniques, such as the use of psychological operation tactics (spying). The Vice-President raised this important point which I think all Malawians must consider seriously.
In the United States, Donald Trump’s campaign team is alleged to have engaged Cambridge Analytica to harvest 50 million Facebook profiles to be used to build a powerful software programme to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.
What can stop riggers from doing the same with the local telecommunications data? That’s why; we on the streets say that the Veep’s allegations should not be dismissed as political banter.
Electoral coup conspirators also use civic spaces of democracy, such as the “mainstream” and social media to create and sustain a perception of the incumbent’s inevitable victory or invincibility to intimidate the opposition. Malawians must be on the lookout for fake news, fake appointments and indeed fake decorations of political leaders. These tools are used to make people believe that a leader is important on the global stage when they are not.
When all is said, all the Vice President wanted to say is that Malawians must start sleeping with one eye open because, in this country, we have thieves who can steal an election.
Was he asking too much?