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some updates on Malawi’s election

23 May 2014
by

Three days after the polls in Malawi were scheduled to close for the tripartite election, we still don’t know who the president will be. The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has said it won’t announce preliminary results until 30% of ballots have been tallied, and this morning (Malawi time) they reported having only 12% of ballots tallied. A friend has just told me that someone currently at the national tally center reports they’re now up to 22% of votes tallied.

Unofficial reports have been broadcast directly from polling centers following the counting at centers and reports to the constituency-level MEC officials. Many in Malawi are closely following Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and Zodiak Radio to hear these unofficial reports. Some of us are even trying to calculate our own tallies from the reports.

Depending on the time of day and the political preferences of the person talking/tweeting/posting to Facebook, the lead for the presidential race has wavered between Lazarus Chakwera, the candidate from the Malawi Congress Party, and Peter Mutharika, the brother of the late president Bingu wa Mutharika, and the candidate from the Democratic Progressive Party. Definitely out of the running are current president Joyce Banda of the People’s Party as well as the son of former president Bakili Muluzi, Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front.

Front pages of Malawi's two major daily newspapers on May 22, 2014. Taken by Kim Yi Dionne. All rights reserved.

Front pages of Malawi’s two major daily newspapers on May 22, 2014. Taken by Kim Yi Dionne. All rights reserved.

Technically, the Malawi Electoral Commission has eight days to tally the results (and even after that, I’m not sure what the “punishment” is for not having electoral results by the deadline). Given the frequency with which they’ve had to delay activities (whether it’s checking the voters’ rolls or distributing election materials or opening polling centers), I’m not holding my breath. Plus, I’ve spent a lot of time in the MEC offices in the past two weeks I’ve been in Malawi. I would charitably refer to it as organized chaos, with an emphasis on the latter.

MEC staff prepare electoral materials to be distributed across the country. Taken May 15, 2014 at MEC Headquarters in Blantyre, by Kim Yi Dionne. All rights reserved.

MEC staff prepare electoral materials to be distributed across the country. Taken May 15, 2014 at MEC Headquarters in Blantyre, by Kim Yi Dionne. All rights reserved.

As we wait to hear who the eventual winner will be, it’s clear the current president will not go gentle into that good night. Joyce Banda has made allegations of rigging. It’s the first time I’ve heard of a sitting president accuse the opposition of electoral fraud. Though the BBC is giving quite a bit of air time to Joyce Banda as she cries foul, Malawi’s media and political analysts find the claims to be baseless. Her appeal to the high court for an injunction to stop the counting of votes was denied.

Photo of news article published in today’s Daily Times.

One of the voting “irregularities” reported by the People’s Party was the practice of voters choosing candidates from different parties for different offices. For example, in the photo below of a news article printed in yesterday’s The Nation, a People’s Party spokesman interprets split-ticket voting as a sign of fraud. Conversations I had with some Malawian voters before the election, however, suggested that people voting for one party’s candidate for president and another party’s candidate for MP would not be uncommon.

Continuation of an article from The Nation specifying voting irregularities claimed by ruling People's Party. Taken May 22, 2014.

Continuation of an article from The Nation specifying voting irregularities claimed by ruling People’s Party. Taken May 22, 2014.

If you’re interested in following the election results in real time, I recommend going to Twitter and browsing what pops up with the hashtag #MalawiVote2014, and reading tweets posted by @BoniDulani @MEIC_2014 @MalawiNation @electionsmalawi and @jkainja.

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