Rigging fears

  • PAC investigating APM, SKC claims
  • Credibility of elections undermined—analysts

With 24 days to the May 21 polls, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) has instituted an investigation into rigging allegations that President Peter Mutharika and UTM president Saulos Chilima have been making on the campaign trail, Nation Online understands.

A political analyst has since warned that if the two leaders are not taken to task to provide answers on the rigging claims, the allegations may undermine the credibility of the forthcoming elections.

UTM torchbearer: Chilima

According to information we have gathered, the quasi-religious body has taken the matter seriously such that it has launched a probe.

In an interview with Nation Online, PAC executive director Robert Phiri confirmed the investigations without wanting to divulge more on what they have gathered so far.

Based on what they have gathered, Phiri said they intend to meet with the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to map the way forward.

“Coming from the top leadership of the country, it is a cause for concern and as PAC, we have particular interest in this. We are using subtle diplomacy and we have engaged other players on this. We know how concerned Malawians are and so, too, we are concerned; therefore, we are investigating the matter, but I cannot talk publicly on this issue for now,” he said.

Seeking second term with DPP: Mutharika

The issue also formed part of the discussion at the PAC conference during the week.

According to Phiri, during their consultations with presidential candidates few days ago, the same concern emerged such that the board has instructed him to call for an immediate meeting with MEC on the same.

On more than one occasion, President Mutharika—leading the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)—and his number two Saulos Chilima, who quit the DPP to lead the newly found UTM, have been accusing some people of planning to rig elections.

Ironically, the two were on the same ticket in 2014, when they dislodged the ruling People’s Party (PP) in a closely contested race which had the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which came second, claiming the polls were rigged.

Chakwera: It is these two who owe Malawians evidence of the rigging activities

With tongues wagging following claims of rigging in the 2014 polls, there has been no official statement from government to substantiate the rumours which characterised previous elections.

However, in October 2014, the High Court in Lilongwe nullified the parliamentary election in Lilongwe City South East in which MEC declared DPP candidate Bently Namasasu winner by 98 votes against MCP’s Ulemu Msungama, who successfully challenged the result.

The court ordered a re-run and Msungama emerged winner, a move which gave credence to rigging claims.

During the launch of UTM last July, Chilima accused the DPP-led government of planning to rig the elections using some ‘spy machine’.

Mutharika has also, on more than one occasion, accused some people of planning to rig the elections.

During a whistle-stop tour of Blantyre in January, APM claimed: “I have heard that some people want to rig elections and they are bringing people from outside the country to help rig elections because they know they can’t win. But let me warn them. I am watching you.”

Mutharika made similar comments during a tour of some parts of Central Region a few days ago—this time around he implicated two mobile network companies Airtel Malawi and TNM as part of the syndicate—an allegation the firms have refuted.

But a common feature in both Mutharika and Chilima’s allegations is that those planning to rig will use an unexplained ‘machine’.

University of Malawi political analyst Mustapha Hussein described the allegations as serious, demanding attention and explanation. He warned that if the allegations coming from the highest office on the land are not addressed, they have the potential to affect the credibility of the elections.

He suggested that the electoral body should summon the two to provide evidence of what they know or better still denounce their statements if they have no proof.

“We should pressure MEC to look into the issue. The allegations should not just be brushed aside. It is about perception and credibility of the elections,” he said.

Hussein also warned Mutharika and Chilima that if they do not provide evidence on the matter, they could be shooting themselves in the foot as people may end up believing that they rigged the previous elections.

MCP president Lazarus Chakwera has also asked Mutharika and Chilima to provide more information to inspire confidence in voters willing to take part in the forthcoming elections.

Said Chakwera in an earlier interview: “The only person the President has accused of rigging elections is the Vice-President. And the only person the Vice-President has accused of rigging elections is the President. As such it is these two who owe Malawians evidence of the rigging activities they see in each other. But I can tell you that any attempt of rigging, God will not allow it, Malawians will not allow it and MCP will not allow it.”

In a telephone interview last Friday, EU Observer Mission deputy chief Mark Stevens stressed on the need for transparency in the whole election process.

He said, as observers, they are on the ground observing the process so that at the end of the day they can assess the quality of the process.

Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) chairperson, Steve Duwa said questions are being raised if Malawians would have confidence that their vote will be safeguarded.

“These allegations are being made by high-profile personalities; this may scare away potential voters. This may also create room for people not to accept the results,” he said.

Duwa said while MEC claims that no one can tamper with the system, it was still important for MEC to follow up on the matter and demand evidence from Mutharika and Chilima.

In a telephone interview, MEC commissioner Mary Nkosi reiterated that anyone with information on rigging should present it to the commission. She insisted that as far as she is concerned MEC has safeguard measures in place to prevent any chance of rigging.

Asked why MEC is not taking Mutharika and Chilima to task, to explain their claims, Nkosi said: “Let them bring information if they have any. We cannot be chasing politicians in political podiums to verify their claims. We have interacted with political parties and none of them has raised those claims.”

She added that MEC has a pool of ICT experts who have undergone training to ensure that transmission of results is not tampered with.

Nkosi, however, urged politicians to avoid making careless statements without evidence.

“It’s our appeal to all politicians to stick to real issues and also the voter must not always believe anything they hear. As MEC, we are set to conduct free and fair elections.”

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