Voting started and progressed well in Malawi’s second tripartite elections yesterday, surviving sporadic incidents that threatened to mar polling in some centres.
The glitches included the disappearance of names on voters’ roll that left Vice-President Saulos Chilima stranded in Lilongwe as well as misunderstandings over eligible monitors and missing voters’ registers.
However, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) said voting went on well.
Polling ended relatively well the Northern Region, save for a few areas in Chitipa and Karonga where the process started late.
For example, Alliance for Democracy (Aford) and United Democratic Front (UDF) monitors had to wait for three hours before being allowed to observe the exercise in Karonga Central Constituency.
The elections started at 10.25am—over four hours late—at Kanyenjere School in Zambwe Ward in Chitipa Central Constituency because the voters’ register was not available.
Chitipa district commissioner (DC) Humphrey Gondwe stated that electoral materials came without the register and they engaged MEC for immediate action. Voting was extended to 10pm at Kanyenjere, where 676 registered to vote.
The polls exposed a breakdown in the border district’s transport system as results from Chitipa-Itulo, Nyungu, Sofwe and Mughona in Chitipa East; Ibulukutu and Chibale in Chitipa Central as well as Chilambo and Bale in Chitipa Wenya could not go to the district tally centre due to lack of passable roads.
Voting materials for the eight hard-to-reach areas were airlifted using a helicopter Gondwe expected to carry the results to the boma today.
Similar hiccups haunted 10 polling stations in Karonga North Constituency. These are Mapwa, Chiwiri, Ngana, Ngisi, Muwisi, Ikwawo, Ndemange, Chisi, Kakolya and Kalembo.
In Karonga Central’s Mlare Ward, UDF and Aford monitors were forced to wait for three hours because their names were not on the list of accredited party aides.
UDF running mate Frank Tumpale Mwenifumbo, who is vying for re-election to Parliament on Aford ticket, called MEC chairperson Jane Ansah to intervene because “electoral staff in Karonga and Mzuzu also didn’t help”.
“For three hours these monitors didn’t do anything. The whole of Mlare Ward, it’s not fair,” he said after casting the ballot at Mwenilondo.
According to Karonga DC Emmanuel Bulukutu, the issue was resolved on time and the monitors were allowed to work.
“This is a very delicate period, but there was nothing really that we couldn’t have resolved,” he said.
In the Central Region, voters at Civic Offices in Lilongwe City Centre Constituency started voting 90 minutes late as the counting of ballots was postponed from Monday evening to Tuesday morning.
In an interview, the centre’s presiding officer, Alick Msukwa, said: “Yesterday monitors agreed that ballot boxes should be opened today, not yesterday, to check if what we received tallied with the registered voters at this centre.”
“The decision was made to ensure that no one tampered with ballot papers during the night.”
US deputy head of mission, Andrew Herrup, said that despite the patchy delays, he was satisfied with how polling panned out.
He commended MEC for managing the preparations for these elections well, hoping it would prevent unrest as the nation awaits the electoral body to announce official results.
Similar statements were made by the European Union Elections Observer Mission at a press briefing in Blantyre yesterday morning.
However, tension rose in Dedza East after former legislator Juliana Lunguzi, who is seeking re-election, discovered that her name was missing from the voters’ roll. Tempers flared when the presiding officer ruled that she was ineligible to vote although her name was on the ballot.
“This is not happening to me, I registered here and to see my name is not there raises many questions. If I am sent back, what will this mean to those Malawians who can’t speak when sent back?” Lunguzi hit back.
She walked away after nearly 40-minute negotiations. Monitors of other parties accused her of going there to campaign. She denied the allegation.
By contrast, there was calm in Nkhotakota where long queues were seen yesterday morning. About 178 606 registered voters were scheduled to cast their ballots in 151 polling stations in the shoreline district.
Voters started trekking to the stations as early as 4am, hoping their vote would make a difference.
In Nkhotakota Central Constituency at Community Hall, polls opened late due to MEC staff’s failure to inspect voting materials prior to the polling day. Angry voters hurled insults at the staff until voting started at 6:35am.
Constituency returning officer Susan Mzumara could not say if voting at centre would be extended to make up for the delay.
But in Nkhotakota North East Constituency, some four centres had inadequate log books and plastic security envelopes. MEC resolved the problems in the afternoon.
But the police arrested a monitor for an independent candidate for Nkhotakota North East for trying to vote twice.
Nkhunga Police publicist Ignatius Esau identified the suspect as Assan Kazeze.
In the Southern Region, there were mixed scenarios in Mwanza, Blantyre and Thyolo districts.
For instance, some voters in the queue at Nancholi Primary School in Blantyre South East Constituency did not cast the ballots because their names were missing from the register. The centre also had no Braille materials for persons with visual impairment, presiding officer Wilson Ntonga confirmed.
At Blantyre Youth Centre, presiding officer Edna Chikomeni said the centre had no visitors book and some voters’ names were not on the list.
Voting at Mayera Primary School in Blantyre Rural Constituency began at 8.22am because of delays to dispatch ballot boxes to the polling station on the margins of the city where MEC headquarters and warehouses are located. But the centre’s presiding officer Linestar Mwale, said voting went on smoothly after the boxes arrived.
In Malabada Constituency at Nankhumba Primary School, polling started around 7am, much to the disappointment of voters who queues as early as 4am.
However, Ansah told journalists that polling throughout the country went on well with minor setbacks which were quickly rectified.