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Mec leaves nation in suspense

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By Richard Chirombo:

What started as a fast day at 12 noon yesterday, with Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson Jane Ansah updating Malawians on latest results in the presidential election, ended on a rather slow note at around 10:05pm when officials at the elections body failed short of informing the nation on who was beating who, even when 95 percent of results were in.

Earlier in the day, during a press briefing that started at noon, Ansah— flanked by Mec Chief Elections Officer Sam Alfandika and commissioners— announced that Democratic Progressive Party torch-bearer President Peter Mutharika was leading the presidential race with 1,436,877 votes, (representing 40.5 percent), seconded by Malawi Congress Party president Lazarus Chakwera, with 1,257,583 votes— representing 35.4 percent.

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UTM presidential candidate Saulos Chilima was coming a distant third, with 651,124 votes, representing 18.4 votes.

By that time, Mec’s electronic boards were indicating that officials who are processing results received from district returning officers had received them from 75 percent of the centres where such preliminary results are being sent to Mec for certification.

Asked if results from all centres would be ready by 9pm, for Mec to announce latest developments in the closely contested presidential election, Ansah could not promise members of the press— only saying she was hopeful that Mec would have covered enough ground by the scheduled time of 9pm.

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“I cannot promise that we will announce results by 9pm. We will only announce results after getting results from the last polling centre.

“Actually, what we are announcing are not certified results. These are preliminary results,” was all Ansah could say.

It was against this background that when Ansah, commissioners and Mec secretariat staff thronged Comesa Hall, the main tally centre, in Blantyre that evening, expectations were that members of the press, local and international observers and other stakeholders would get the latest on who is ahead of who in the presidential race.

It was not to be as, instead, after an opening prayer and preliminary remarks from Alfandika, the Mec chairperson could only update the nation on complaints received from various parts of the country and how they were being handled.

One of the complaints she referred to related to an official complaint that 6,088 people had voted at Goliati Primary School in Thyolo District on May 21, when only 6,088 registered to vote.

“This is not true. We have established that we sent 5,700 ballot papers to the said centre, there were 5,287 votes cast, 16 cancelled, or spoilt ballots, while 351 ballots were unused,” Ansah said.

She also alluded to the issue of a complaint pertaining to a purported voting irregularity registered at Magunda Court in Thyolo East.

Ansah said they got a complaint that more people voted than those who had registered but, again, she said, this was not true.

She also announced that results from polling stations in Mulanje South Constituency had been quarantined, after some electoral stakeholders complained to Mec that some results-sheets had been tampered with.

“However, our finding is that only sub-totals are not adding up; the rest of the results are in order. So, we have quarantined the results to investigate the issue,” she said.

She added that Mec had also been notified that a constituency returning officer had been arrested in Nsanje Central Constituency in connection with an election-related malpractice.

Ansah said Mec had sent officers to Nsanje District to investigate the issue.

Thereafter, she announced that the next Mec briefing [the ninth one since May 21] would be at 12noon today, blessed those gathered in Comesa Hall, sat down and, instead of, as per tradition, entertaining questions from members of the press pregnant with expectations, commissioner Bishop Mary Nkosi closed the affair with a word of prayer.

Perhaps the only thing that came close to confirming how close Mec was to announcing results were remarks Alfandika made before inviting Ansah to address election stakeholders.

“We are getting closer and closer to the finishing line. We are still making steady progress. We are moving smoothly to conclude this exercise to get the final results of parliamentary, Local Government and presidential elections. This is what we will achieve in a few days,” he said.

Maybe he was hinting that results would be ready not in hours but days.

In fact, Mec commissioners, secretariat staff and Ansah came in when the electronic results board was indicating that 95 percent of results had been received from centres; only to leave the room [Comesa Hall] when the board was still reading 95 percent.

The other notable thing was that, instead of starting the briefing at 9pm as earlier communicated, it only started after 09:30pm.

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