Malawi says 1200 vehicles still needed for polls

LUSAKA – The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is looking for over 1200 trucks to enable it to distribute ballots across the country for Malawi's first ever tripartite elections, due on May 20, according to MEC chief Maxon Mbendera.

Mbendera told political figures and reporters – who gathered at Kamuzu International Airport to see the arrival of the first shipment of ballots – that the MEC did not have enough vehicles for the upcoming elections.

"As a commission, we do not have enough logistical vehicles to enable us to successfully carry out our mandate, but we are working around the clock to resolve the problem," he said.

"All efforts are being made to ensure that we have enough number of vehicles," he added. "Even if it means we have to hire some, we will possess no alternative but to make out if the need comes up."

But the revelation left some stakeholders, including opposition and civil society representatives, wondering why the commission had taken so long to address the problem.

"Why are we only told of the problem now? We suspect the commission is up to no good. Perhaps it wants to rig the elections on behalf of the government," Kandi Padambo, secretary-general of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), told Anadolu Agency by phone from his base in Blantyre.

"We need a reasonable explanation on why the commission did not procure logistical vehicles on time," he added. "The commission knew – or ought to have known – that we will have another election… and hence should have made adequate preparations."

Similarly, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader Gustav Kaliwo told AA by phone that his party, too, was suspicious of the MEC's announcement regarding its lack of vehicles.

"Even if we want to give the commission the benefit of the doubt, that doubt would still fall out on account of time. The commission had enough time to prepare for these elections," Kaliwo said.

"The questions that beg answers from the commission is why didn't it do its homework on time?" he wondered. "We agree with our brothers in the opposition who suspect that the MEC wants these elections rigged."

He further indicated that opposition parties would mobilize supporters to defend upcoming elections by guarding the ballot boxes now being kept at the Kamuzu International Airport's cargo terminal.

However, the MEC chief said he had ordered the arrest of any individual or groups acting on their own or on the behalf of their organizations as security officers.

Mbendera said that the MEC had entrusted the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) and the Malawi Police Service (MPS) with providing 24-hour security to the warehouse currently holding the ballot boxes.

"We do not agree with the suggestion from stakeholders that want to provide security to the warehouse where we have kept the ballot boxes," he said.

"Are they telling us the MDF and MPS are no longer trusted to provide security for the ballot boxes?" he asked. "Since when did the people of Malawi lose trust in the two institutions?"

"As the MEC, we have every confidence that the ballot boxes are secure in the warehouse and will remain closed until the time for distribution," which he hopes will be concluded by May 18 with the help of the MDF and MPS.

"Against this background, we will not allow anyone around the warehouse in the name of providing security to the ballot papers," he added. "If anyone dares, the police know what to do."

Meanwhile, Chris Chisoni, chairman of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, an NGO that will take part in monitoring the upcoming polls, said there was no time for argument, urging all the country's stakeholders to work together to ensure successful elections.

"These elections are crucial for the country. I therefore suggest all of our stakeholders, including government and other cooperating partners, put their heads together and avert this pending catastrophe," Chisoni said. "If we don't do anything, posterity will harshly judge us."

The May 20 tripartite elections will see Malawians elect a new president, members of parliament and local government councilors. The polls will be the country's fifth since transitioning to democracy in 1994.

As many as 12 candidates are vying for presidency, led by incumbent leader Joyce Banda, who succeeded Bingu wa Mutharika following the latter's death in 2012.

Seventeen political parties are fielding candidates for the 193-seat National Assembly, members of which will serve five-year terms.

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