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Crossing murky river of elections

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By Richard Chirombo:

JANE ANSAH

It is not a single political trail from would-be voters’ abodes to Kamuzu Stadium, the traditional venue for the swearing-in and, when the need arises, inauguration of president elect and vice-president-elect.

In fact, it is a complicated, if not winding, road that takes an aspiring president and running mate on a series of pathways.

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It means covering an estimated 15,451 kilometres (km) of the country’s public road network from Nsanje to Chitipa, Nkhotakota to Mchinji. Of the 15,451km, 28 percent are paved while 72 percent of the roads have earth or gravel surfaces, according to Roads Authority (RA) statistics for 2016.

RA further indicates that, 2,976km comprise paved roads, while 381km of the main roads are unpaved. It further indicates that 2,612km of the secondary road network is unpaved, with 4,077km of tertiary roads being unpaved.

Of course, some of the rural roads have undergone a facelift, with over 833km being graded in rural areas of the Southern Region, thanks to a Malawi Government programme that has seen officials tapping funds, to the tune of K624 million, from the fuel levy.

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So, somehow, Malawi has turned a corner, for, in 2014, the state of the road network was worse.

“The condition of paved road network as at June 2014 is 38 percent good, 40 percent fair and 22 percent poor,” RA documents read.

This is the terrain those that were contesting in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections covered after the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) declared—on March 19, to run up to May

19— that it was official campaign period.

In fact, presidential candidates— Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Saulos Chilima of UTM, Atupele Muluzi of United Democratic Front, John Chisi of Umodzi Party, Peter Kuwani of Mbakuwaku Movement for Development, Cassim Chilumpha of Tikonze Movement [who would later be barred from contesting] and independent candidate Reverend Kaliya— would take breaks from the campaign trail to be part of debates organised for presidential candidates.

CRIED FOUL—MCP

The debates were a product of the taskforce comprising Media Institute of Southern Africa-Malawi Chapter, Times Group, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, Zodiak Broadcasting Station, Centre for Multiparty Democracy, Democracy Works Foundation, Civil Society Agriculture Network, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Malawi Law Society, Public Affairs Committee, Voluntary Service Organisation, National Initiative for Civic Education Public Trust and National Democratic Institute.

It, surely, must not have been easy taking a series of pathways to get into the voter’s heart. The road to success in politics takes one across dirt roads, flooding rivers, dry land; across known and unknown lands, so long as victory is certain.

From the beginning, things augured well for contestants, for macabre stories of attacks were as scarce as mid-day dew.

So, there was nothing like cases of presidential aspirants being attacked, let alone supporters of rival parties making anguished visits into places regarded as “enemy’ territory.

If anything, for contestants such as Kuwani and Kaliya, the political journey was akin to a stranger driving on a dusty road based on total ignorance, as opposed to a map— as happens when one is doing things for the first time.

But the fact that they gathered enough courage to face, say, President Mutharika and the then vice-president Chilima head on symbolises the grandiose ambitions of ordinary Malawians who, like everyone else, have a right to vie for the highest office on the land.

Today, their names [Kuwani and Kaliya, even Chisi] will be part of the records.

But, in the end, all their ambitions depended on the voice of one woman, Mec Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah; for it is her who declared the winner on  Monday, May 27.

“By the powers vested in me by the Section 80(2) of the Constitution as read with Section 96(5) of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act, I, Justice Dr Jane Mayemu Ansah, SC [Senior Counsel], JA [Justice of Appeal], hereby declare candidate Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika as the President-elect of Malawi and Everton Herbert Chimulirenji as Vice-President elect of Malawi following the 21st May 2019 presidential election,” she said.

“To everyone out there I wish to say that what binds us together as Malawians is much stronger than what separates us into political parties. Let us all work together to serve our country and to give our future generation a better, stronger and prosperous Malawi.”

In declaring Mutharika winner, Ansah killed the grand ambitions of six other presidential contestants who wanted to rule Malawi between May 21 and the next tripartite elections in 2024.

But, then, this is not supposed to be the case.

Mec, in the first place, should be commended for wearing its guts on the outside.

For instance, its officials always acknowledged when there were problems, with Ansah herself expressing surprise that Tipp-ex was used widely when it is not part of the elections’ materials package.

When UTM complained that its presidential candidate’s votes had been nipped in Mzuzu, Mec official quickly rectified the problem.

When it was reported that more people had voted than those registered at Goliyati Polling Centre in Thyolo District, Ansah sent officials to investigate to, in the end, say: “The reports are not true”.

There were other cases that were timely responded to. However, parties such as MCP have cried foul, with its secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka accusing the commission of paying lip service to complaints it lodged.

He cited a court order the party obtained at the High Court in Lilongwe.

“They have just obeyed one part of the order and disobeyed the other part. We have been trying to engage them to tell us all the logistics regarding the vote recount the court ordered but they say they cannot meet us because the matter is in court,” Mkaka said.

This could be the reason MCP leader Chakwera told BBC Focus on Africa this week that the party would leave nothing to chance and pursue the court case to its logical conclusion.

Mec also wore its guts on the outside when it introduced two to three things in the May 21 Tripartite Elections.

“We have improved a number of things in the election. For example, we used a biometric voter register. We hired external auditors. We also promoted transparency in the electoral process by subjecting ourselves to parties’ scrutiny at every stage of the process. For example, we gave tallied results to party monitors as well as other vital information to ensure that we are on the same page,” Ansah said.

In other words, Mec had a map of the elections laid out for all. So, Malawi is still that stately home for all; just that, in the case of other aspirants, they have fallen on hard ground, otherwise called bad times.

But, then, the future could be as close as 2024.

So, even if passing through the next five years could be like driving on a badly lit road, the thing is that there can only be one winner.

As things stand, Mutharika has already started preaching the message of unity.

Speaking at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre during his swearing in ceremony on Tuesday, Mutharika said time for elections was over.

“Today I want to say thank you Malawi for reelecting me. This is the victory of the rule of law, the victory of democracy. These are elections which international observers have said were peaceful, fair and credible. The elections are a matter of national pride because, for the first time, the elections were funded by local resources,” he said.

He retained the presidency after getting 1,940,709 votes, representing 38.57 percent, while Chakwera got 1,781,740, representing 35.41 percent.

Chilima was third in the presidential race, after getting 1,018,369 votes, or 20.24 percent of the votes cast.

One only hopes the boat that is Malawi moves painlessly forward, anchoring on the shores of sustainable socio-economic development. Moving painlessly forward, in this case, means adjusting the pace of national development goals to those of developed nations.

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