Barefooted with babies on their backs, on bicycles, young and old Malawian men and women turned up in large numbers to vote in hotly contested tripartite elections yesterday which were marred by anomalies.
Despite the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) issuing several statements to bolster their state of preparedness for organised, successful and free and fair tripartite elections, in Tylo district (pronounced Cholo),located 65 km south of Blantyre city, where over three million registered voters reside, many were left frustrated by several anomalies in the electoral process.
Like in other parts of the country such as Blantyre, and the Malawian capital Lilongwe, elections in Tylo were marred by a shortage of ballot papers and ballot boxes as well as the late opening of some polling stations which culminated in the MECannouncing an extension of the voting period by three hours in the affected areas.
As early as 06h00 in the morning enthusiastic voters queued outsideTylo Primary school to cast their votes but by that time ballot boxes had not arrived so the people waited patiently.
Tylo Primary polling station centre presiding officer, a Ms Chisalaexpressed regret that they did not receive ballot boxes on time. “Ballot papers got here yesterday but for some reason we only got ballot boxes this morning after 08h00, so voting started at 09h00 with only two streams. Later on we increased to five streams and now the voting process is moving smoothly,” Chisala said at around 12h00.
Another affected polling station was Nachepere Prison, about two kilometres away from Tylo primary, which ran out of ballot papers as early as 09h00 and voting had to be halted for at least an hour before more ballot papers were brought in.
Voting at Nachepere started on time but hardly three hours later, people were ordered to sit down and wait for more ballot papers. Patiently they waited, but no sooner had the ballot papers arrived than they were finished again.
Quizzed on this anomaly the presiding officer, Assistant Superintendent Matola explained that this particular polling station was mainly for the 181 prisoners incarcerated there andpeople who live in the vicinity.
When they were about to run out of the supplementary ballot papers Matola announced that they had decided to give preference to prisoners because everyone else could go to the next station two kilometres away.
“We are going to concentrate on prisoners because we are short of ballot papers again. Others can go to Nachepere,” the presiding officers said much to the annoyance of the crowd as police officers manning the polling station began to push them out of the room to maintain order.
Real chaos, however, unfolded at Goliata in Rural Tylo which is arguablythe biggest polling station in the area with 600registered voters and home to Democratic Progressive Party(DPP) president Peter Mutharika. Not only did the polling station open late but throughout the day it was characterised by a lack of order because of not enough streams to handle the numbers.
Commenting on the situation after casting his vote,Mutharika who at this point is predicted to be a front runner ahead of his bitter rival and current president, Joyce Banda, whose two-year term was tainted by corruption scandals such as Cashgate, urged the people to be patient and not to resort to violence because of the problems.
“Let’s do this peacefully and let’s give people an opportunity to choose the leaders that they want. And to the people I would say where you are frustrated because of shortage of materials just be patient and don’t resort to violence,”Mutharika said, adding that he was still to find time to be fully briefed on the cause of the anomalies, especially that the MEC had assured the nation that that they were ready for the elections.
Mutharika was also of the opinion that the MEC could correct the anomaly by extending the voting period to tomorrow instead of tonight for security purposes.
Meanwhile, counting started last night as soon as polling stations closed depending on when they opened, MEC said.
Story courtesy of SAEF (Southern African Editors Forum).