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When elections are torturous

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HITCHES—Polling staff cross Mkulumadzi River to deliver polling materials to Neno District

The May 21 Tripartite Elections will, based on unofficial results, go down in history as the most unpredictable on individual and party fronts with parties such as Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Democratic Progressive Party

(DPP) and UTM changing the dynamics of some parties’ strongholds. PETER KANJERE explores the trend of the elections in this Friday Shaker.

At the time of going to press, the narrative of the country’s top three parties had confirmed that the elections are about MCP, DPP and UTM.The sub-theme is about United Democratic Front (UDF) and Alliance for Democracy (Aford), parties that stood head and shoulders above the rest at the dawn of multi-party democracy in 1993-94, like mist, disappearing into obscurity due to founders’ syndrome that has turned them into family entities.

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In 2014, when DPP and its torchbearer Peter Mutharika won the presidential elections the top three order comprised DPP, MCP and People’s Party (PP) in that order, with UD finishing on a distant fourth.

That trend has, if preliminary results which Mec released on Wednesday are anything to go by, continued.

As of Wednesday, Chakwera had amassed 533,217 votes, followed by incumbent Peter Mutharika’s 524, 247 votes (37.01 percent), UTM’s Saulos Chilima’s 293,978 (20.76 percent) and UDF’s Atupele Muluzi’s (48,766) or 3.44 percent.

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However, the tide changed Thursday when Mutharika seized the lead with 1,436,877 votes out of 3,601,538 received, representing 40.49 percent, with Chakwera coming second with 1,257.853 votes translating to 35.44 percent whereas Chilima remained third on 651,124 votes or 18.35 percent.

And, last night, Mec updated the figures.

The latest results reflected 75.81 percent of the votes received at the main tally centre from 3,792 polling centres out of 5,002 with 3, 548,848 being valid and 52,090 being null and void.

Perhaps, more tellingly, Muluzi lost right in his Machinga East Constituency to independent candidate Richard Kalitendere.

This means UDF might have fewer MPs than after the 2014 elections.

“I wish the winner very well. This is what democracy is all about,” Muluzi told The Daily Times Thursday .

Minus the jacket of a legislator, it is hard imagining Aford leader Enoch Chihana and Muluzi wielding any influence and bargaining card which they have always kept enabling them to enter into electoral alliances with the other players.

The waning influence of UDF has turned into a joy for DPP which has, having won no parliamentary seat in 2014, now unofficially boasts of six and overall commands a 60 percent representation in the Eastern Region.

In 2014, UDF had 14 members of Parliament, behind PP’s 26 and DPP’s 51 whereas 52 legislators were independents.

Likewise, Chilima is now more visible in the Northern Region, with MCP and DPP dominating seats of MPs and ward councillors.

Elsewhere, with PP and its leader Joyce Banda entering into an electoral alliance with MCP, the dynamics have changed.

UTM has, barely a year after its birth, replaced PP as the third biggest party but its strength lies in its leader Chilima, who was amassing more votes especially in the Northern Region. However, its lack of strong grassroots structures mean that very few have won as legislators and ward councillors under its ticket.

Whatever the case, UTM has not only eaten into some votes for the big two parties but also made the unpredictable Northern Region and Ntcheu districts its base, in the process consigning UDF and Aford into near obscurity.

It would also be interesting to see how the latest elections would pan out in terms of voter turnout which has since 1994 been fluctuating.

Voter turn-out in 1994 was 3,021,239 representing 80 percent, in 1999 it was 5,071,822 or 93 percent, in 2004 it was 7.5 million voters (59 percent), in 2009 it was 5,071,822 (78.2 percent) and 70.7 percent in 2014 when 7.5 million voters participated in the elections.

Logistically, all was not rosy in some polling centres in districts such as Neno, where polling staff were captured wading through Mkulumadzi River while carrying polling materials.

In Rumphi and Chitipa, only helicopters could transport voting materials to and from polling centres and elsewhere, reports of some polling staff failing to reconcile voting materials used and the available ones meant that transmission of the results delayed.

There were also complaints in Nsanje polling centres where monitors, who are supposed to be key in results transmission and management, were being intimidated and sidelined in some centres in the electoral process.

In Nsanje Central and North constituencies, data entry clerk sent preliminary results to the main tally centre in Blantyre without the knowledge of the monitors.

This only came to light when the machine they were using failed to print the results sheets as it sensed that the process had completed after sending the data to the main tally centre.

Ideally, the results were supposed to be printed and endorsed by the monitors before being sent and not sending them to the main tally centre and then asking monitors to sign them.

Tione Malizani, MCP monitor at Mpatsa, said he was denied a complaint form which is given to a monitor to fill if he/she is not satisfied with the electoral process.

“I am being intimidated. Some results came without results sheet duplicates but they are refusing to give me a complaint form,” he said.

Stephen Fred, who was Nsanje Central Constituency Returning Officer, conceded that the electoral process met hitches but said that was the case largely because polling staff and monitors, receive din adequate training.

In Mzuzu, there were also disagreements between returning officers and monitors with the latter demanding print outs of results sheets.

Then, there was the issue of some candidates’ names missing from some few polling centres including at St Anthony in Lilongwe. At this centre, Chilima’s name was found missing on the voters roll, having been transferred to Chizumulu Island.

One can easily conclude that such challenges were unheard of in past elections but Mec Chief Elections Officer, Sam Alfandika, puts all this down to the fact that the management of the commission is being more transparent.

“We are explaining every step of the electoral process … when we have a problem we are saying it,” Alfandika told Times Television on Wednesday.—Additional reporting by Jameson Chauluka

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