THE Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) has faulted the National Assembly for neglecting its responsibility in not taking into custody the ballot papers for the 2014 Tripartite Elections as required by law.
Parliament admitted the accusation and has attributed the situation to logistical and security challenges.
According to Section 119 of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act, “at the end of its functions, the Commission shall deposit all documents forming the official record of an election (including voters registers, ballot papers, records from districts and polling stations and summaries thereof and the record and summary of the national result) with the Clerk of Parliament who shall retain and preserve such documents in safe and secure custody without destruction for a period of 12 months.”
Section 102 of the Local Government Elections (LGE) Act makes similar provisions.
Mec Chairperson Jane Ansah tore the National Assembly apart last week when the electoral body engaged political parties whose headquarters are in the Northern Region.
“By law, it is not the responsibility of Mec to keep ballot papers but of Parliament. We wrote the National Assembly on the 2014 ballot papers so that they can take charge,” Ansah said.
She was reacting to a question from National Rainbow Coalition interim leader Yelemia Chihana on the action taken by the electoral body to avert damage of electoral materials during elections.
Chihana’s observation arose from an incident in June 2014 when fire that razed down a warehouse in Lilongwe which was keeping ballot papers for Lilongwe City South East Constituency whose result was under dispute.
But Ansah said despite that the National Assembly was legally duty bound to secure and store the ballot papers, the institution has not complied.
“They have been giving us excuses that they do not have the space for the used ballot papers but in actual fact it is their mandate,” Ansah said.
The Sunday Times understands that Mec wrote the Clerk of Parliament in early 2015 to advise where the 2014 Tripartite Elections ballot papers could be deposited following a query by the parliamentary legal affairs committee and an observation by the Malawi Human Rights Commission in its elections monitoring report.
But the National Assembly never responded to Mec, which prompted the electoral body, in October 2015, to dispose of the ballot papers with the exception of “electoral records from the constituencies whose results are contested in courts and the cases have not been concluded,” according to a press statement issued at the time.
However, in an interview this week, spokesperson for the National Assembly, Leonard Mengezi, said they are in discussion with the electoral body on how to go about the situation.
“Parliament is currently in discussion with the Electoral Commission to handle logistics to have ballot papers in its custody and because of security reasons, I shall not declare how this is being handled.
“Suffice to say that this mandate of safe custody shall be implemented as stipulated by the law, accordingly,” Mengezi said.
Asked on how Parliament has been fulfilling its mandate for previous elections, Mengezi it was not possible to keep the used ballot, especially for the 2009 elections.
“In 2009 Parliament had no premises, hence it was not possible to manage ballot papers. These matters are sensitive and need to be handled holistically and in conformity with clear procedures that are being defined now,”.
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