An opposition parties bloc yesterday warned it would take legal action if Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah and other senior officials do not step aside to allow a forensic audit of equipment and data in the electoral body’s custody.
The 10-party grouping’s chairperson, former vice-president and leader of the Assembly for Democracy and Development (ADD) Cassim Chilumpha, said at a press conference in Blantyre yesterday the bloc had agreed to make several demands in the wake of the theft and partial recovery of some registration equipment.
Among other senior officials the group wants suspended alongside Ansah are MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika and chairperson for electoral services committee Jean Mathanga.
The grouping comprises ADD, People’s Party (PP), People’s Progressive Movement (PPM), United Transformation Movement (UTM), Malawi Forum for Unity and Development (Mafunde), People’s Transformation Party (Petra), Alliance for Democracy (Aford), Malawi Democratic Party (MDP), Republican Party (RP) and the New Labour Party (NLP).
But a political analyst Augustine Magolowondo in a telephone interview yesterday cast doubt on whether having the three MEC senior officials suspended would address the concerns raised by various stakeholders.
He said: “I do not think suspending the three officials would deal with the problems at hand. The most important thing now is that MEC should regain public trust and that can be achieved by having an independent audit of the machinery and data.
“This can be done with the officials still in their positions. There must be constructive dialogue on this. But, I would also say that political parties need to invest a lot in monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the electoral process does not lose credibility.”
The opposition party leaders present yesterday included PPM leader Mark Katsonga Phiri, Mafunde president George Nnensa, Kamuzu Chibambo of Petra and Paul Chibingu, who represented newly-formed UTM.
Besides the suspension of the three, Chilumpha said the parties were seeking the technical and material support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Department for International Development (DfID) and the European Union to carry out an independent forensic audit to be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge.
He said: “Our view is that if nothing is done to address why and how the biometric voter registration kit [BVRK] equipment got stolen and part of it recovered in Mozambique, the elections next year will be a sham. As it is, the integrity of MEC has been thrown in serious doubt. That is why we want to see the top MEC officials pave the way for independent investigations.”
Conspicuously missing at the meeting were representatives from the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) who, according to Katsonga Phiri, were duly invited and accepted but did not show up.
However, in an interview on Monday MCP spokesperson Maurice Munthali said the party was interested in the meeting.
Asked on the practicality of the demands, Nnensa said the parties were determined to see their demands met.
He said: “We are the major electoral stakeholders, therefore, the electoral process should be conducted in such a way that it is acceptable to us. In 1999, former MEC chairperson the late Justice Hanjahanja was also forced to resign. We have the means to ensure our wishes are respected. The bottom line is that we do not want to see elections polarising the country as it has been the case elsewhere.”
A statement read out at the presser also demanded the registration of all political parties that applied for registration under the Political Parties (Regulation and Registration) Act no later than November 26 2018.
The parties have also asked the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) to convene a stakeholders conference by the same date.
PAC chairperson the Reverend Felix Chingota said in a telephone interview yesterday his organisation was yet to receive the request from the political parties.
He said: “We will sit down and map the way forward once we receive communication. But they must be assured that we will treat the matter with utmost urgency. Let them bring the matter and we will address it as it comes.”
University of Malawi’s Chancellor College political science lecturer Ernest Thindwa said the parties do not hold any leverage to force government to comply with their demands.
He said: “I think it is a test both to the parties and MEC in the sense that they bring about a scenario where the perception of the electorate is well managed.
“At this stage it seems MEC has been acting arrogantly. I would also say the MCP are losing an opportunity by not being a part of this. Being the largest official opposition party, they should have been leading from the front.”
The BVRK number 1962 is said to have been stolen in transit from Mzuzu in September and was recovered in Mozambique with some parts missing.