- Former commissioner, lawyers query electoral body
Dust is refusing to settle over Malawi Electoral Commission’s (MEC) decision to accept May 21 Tripartite Elections results sheets altered using correction fluid, Tippex, with a former commissioner and lawyers faulting the electoral body.
In separate interviews amid debate on the issue, the critics have questioned the rationale of MEC accepting election results sheets tampered with the correction fluid which was not part of the electoral body’s inventory.
In an interview on Tuesday, former MEC commissioner the Reverend Maxwell Mezuwa Banda said Tippex was never used in previous elections and wondered how it was used this time despite MEC not ordering the same.
He said: “We never allowed Tippex. Never! What we allowed was that if there was an error, the officers should simply cross one line over the wrong data, and then write the correct figure just besides it.
“We need an explanation on how it found itself in the electoral process? MEC must surely know who provided this Tippex and for what reason.”
The sentiments of Mezuwa Banda, who was in the commission that organised the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections chaired by Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Maxon Mbendera (deceased), were echoed by some lawyers who queried the decision by the electoral body to proceed with declaration of results in the face of such irregularities.
In an interview, lawyer Justin Dzonzi said once a document had alterations, it became ineligible. He also faulted the independent auditors MEC engaged for accepting documents that were tampered with.
He said by all professional standards, MEC should have disallowed any document that was either erased with the correction fluid or crossed out to ensure credibility and acceptability of results.
Said Dzonzi: “There can only be two explanations on why MEC allowed these documents [that were tampered with]. The first reason is that MEC itself is compromised and I think there is evidence to that.
“Secondly, perhaps the problem was so pervasive that MEC was faced with two difficult choices—either to declare the election null and void and start all over again or just announce the results so that the country can move on.
“In either case, it is still a compromise and is unacceptable because if the election of a person is determined by factors beyond the ballots cast, then there is no point going into voting.”
In a separate interview, Garton Kamchedzera, a professor of law at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, observed that MEC acted as a competitor in the election instead of being a referee.
He said MEC’s own admission through chairperson Jane Ansah and chief elections officer Sam Alfandika that no Tippex was supplied was reason enough to reject any document tampered with using the correction fluid.
Kamchedzera said MEC should have been alert on the source of Tippex, whose use was widespread across the 5 002 polling stations nationwide.
He said: “Election officers who sent ‘Tippexed’ documents were assured that their documents would be accepted.
“Those documents were not credible. By accepting the documents, MEC was accepting to use documents and records that were not credible; and then taking them, assigning the label of credibility to something that was not credible.”
During one of the regular post-election press briefings at the National Tally Centre in Blantyre, Ansah, a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, admitted that the electoral body did not provide the correction fluid and wondered how it found its way in the process.
If the fluid was not on the official inventory, then who ordered and distributed it?
Yesterday, MEC officials were dodgy to explain the use of the correction fluid with Alfandika pushing the issue to director of media and public relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa who further referred the matter to commissioner Jean Mathanga.
Mathanga, who chairs the commission’s Electoral Services Committee, said the situation is still tense; hence, asked for a written questionnaire.
However, she later referred the matter back to Alfandika, who said he could not comment on the issue as the matter is in court.
“The issue of Tippex is in court. It is one of the submissions and, therefore, it would be wrong for me to make a comment,” he said.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party, whose presidential candidates Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima, respectively, finished second and third in the official results MEC announced, have moved the courts to nullify the elections, citing irregularities.
The quasi-religious group Public Affairs Committee (PAC) said in its analysis of the polls that the results management process lacked credibility, especially in the wake of revelations of use of Tippex.
The European Union Election Observer Mission also faulted the results management system.
During the briefings, Ansah said there were 147 complaints lodged and that the issue of Tippex was resolved.
Section 96 of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act (PPEA) mandates MEC to determine and publish the national result of a general election based on the records delivered to it from the districts and polling stations.