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MDF, police tussle over polls materials

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By Mandy Pondani & Macdonald Thom:

Godfrey Itaye

There was a misunderstanding between police officers and Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers in Karonga District on Saturday night over the dispatch of polling materials from some constituencies to specific centres.

The Daily Times has established that, despite communication from Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) that no voting materials should be dispatched to centres at night, some police officers insisted on delivering the materials at odd hours, an idea MDF soldiers opposed.

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This caused tension between the two groups thereby raising suspicion that the police officers were up to something sinister that could compromise security and credibility of tomorrow’s presidential, parliamentary and Local Government elections.

Our findings come after Vice-President and UTM leader, Saulos Chilima, expressed concern over the incident and a similar one in Mzimba during a press briefing he hosted in Lilongwe on Sunday morning, in which he claimed the presence of police impersonators.

“In Karonga and Mzimba, there were near shootouts between the MDF and some police impersonators as late as last night and we would like to commend the MDF personnel for standing firm in defending our democracy,” Chilima said.

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Karonga District Commissioner (DC), Emmanuel Bulukutu, Sunday blamed the incident on poor communication between police officers and those guarding ballot boxes.

He, however, dismissed fears of the presence of police impersonators.

“We instructed the CROs [constituency returning officers] not to start the dispatch of materials since it was late at night and to start the following day. However, some of the security officers thought that once they reached the tally centres, they would automatically get the materials and leave for polling centres,” he said.

Bulukutu said everyone handling the ballot boxes has been briefed on the procedure and that they have understood the arrangement.

In Mzimba, reports have also been rife of the dispatch of marked ballot papers to the district, which some quarters think has led to the transfer of Officer-in-Charge (OC), Ackis Muwanga, to Zomba.

Muwanga, according to reports, refused to be part of the scheme to handle the ballot papers in question, thereby, infuriating higher authorities who are said to have directed his immediate redeployment to Zomba.

Muwanga, however, refused to comment on circumstances surrounding his transfer.

National Police spokesperson, James Kadadzera, described the transfer as normal.

Meanwhile, M’mbelwa District Council DC, Thomas Chirwa, has downplayed reports of an alleged near shootout and also news of the already marked ballot papers.

“I can’t comment on the OC’s transfer because there are always new developments in police service, but what I know is that the van carrying voting materials for Bulala reported that some of the cases burst during handling at Kia [Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe]. All political parties were invited and a consensus was reached that the affected boxes should be dispatched straight to the specific centres where they are meant to be used for polling. For whatever reason, someone decided to peddle the lie that the ballot papers were already marked, something which is not true,” he said.

Chirwa said his office has strengthened the monitoring system through Multiparty Liaison Committee to ensure peaceful and credible elections.

Also, in Nkhata Bay there was tension after some boxes suspected to have had polling materials were found on Marine Vessel Ilala on Saturday thus raising suspicion of a vote rigging syndicate.

But Nkhata Bay DC, Rodney Simwaka, Sunday said the boxes contained Mec civic education materials, some of which were used for a dry test run but delivery delayed due to transport challenges to the island.

The boxes are being kept at Nkhata Bay Police Station.

Meanwhile, Malawi Congress Party, through its spokesperson Maurice Munthali, has appealed to all Malawians to safeguard their vote by reporting every irregularity.

The campaign period ended at 6:00am on Sunday and, few minutes before the closure of the campaign period, Chilima raised a number of issues, which, he said, Mec should address.

Chilima said his party had discovered that some people, who are not police officers, have been deployed to polling centres.

“There is a gentleman [name withheld] who is a former commissioner general of Zimbabwe police. He is a fugitive on the run and he is responsible for deploying police uniform to DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] Cadets. We demand that he leaves this country immediately,” Chilima said.

He also said he was aware of plans of “seeding pre-marked ballot papers using some police impersonators”.

He also said he had information that the government machinery wants to shut down communication systems tomorrow.

“We would like to commend the legal minds that sat in that meeting for advising against such a decision,” he said.

When contacted Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority Director General, Godfrey Itaye, said he was not aware of the plans to shut down the communication system.

“I am not aware of such plans Ask him [Chilima] who his sources are,” Itaye said

DPP spokesperson, Nicholas Dausi, said if, indeed, they wanted to rig the elections, the party would not have bothered campaigning.

“What Dr Chilima said about purported DPP plans to rig elections is completely false and erroneous. It is an extremely dangerous lie because the former commissioner of police from Zimbabwe is married here. There is no connection, whatsoever, with Malawi wanting to rig the elections,” Dausi said.

In an interview Sunday, Mec Electoral Services Commissioner, Jean Mathanga, reiterated that the elections would not be rigged.

“There is no such thing as rigging. For someone to rig, one would have to bribe people in the whole process. For sure, this is not possible. All we are saying is that, as Mec, we realise that there could be people who would try to disturb our system but, on our part, we have made sure that we put in place measures that would deter any would-be fraudsters. We are very sure that our system is intact,” she said.

“We continue to assure Malawians that we as Mec, are making sure that your vote is protected. Our system is watertight. They may try to disturb the system. Should it happen, we would, for sure, ignore that transmission and we would solely rely on the paper documents which are the most important documents in the whole transmission system.”

Recently, the Malawi Police Service dismissed social media reports that party cadets were being trained to be used as police officers during the elections.

Chilima used to make the vote rigging claims during the campaign period.

Eventually, President Peter Mutharika claimed that some opposition political parties wanted to hire rigging experts from India, Nigeria and Russia.

A few days later, the Immigration Department said nationals from the three countries would be scrutinised by its headquarters before issuing visas.

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