WINDHOEK – The Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) has reported that the 2014 tripartite elections in Malawi that took place on Tuesday started off chaotically.
There were incidents of violence, while some polling stations opened very late frustrating voters.
SAEF stated the tripartite presidential, parliamentary and local government elections started off chaotically with polling stations opening late, while ballot papers and voters’ registers were apparently missing.
The chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN), Steve Duwa, confirmed in Blantyre that most polling stations did not open until 09h00, instead of the 06h00 they were supposed to open.
Duwa also disclosed that the Mtantha centres in Mzimba only opened at 09h30 with most complaints being registered in the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe.
MESN received 14 047 messages from its observers and another 4 410 from Malawian citizens concerning the late opening and other complaints and issues.
Duwa confirmed that the MESN had received reports of riots in some areas in the southern region of Malawi, at Blantyre Girls Secondary School, Chirimba Township and Machinjiri where polling stations reportedly opened late.
The MESN press statement said irate citizens blocked the road to Chikwakwa Central.
The Malawi Electoral Commission spokesperson, Sangwani Mwafulirwa, was quoted as saying the errors emanated from miscalculations in the commercial capital Blantyre.
Voting was officially to start at 06h00 and end at 18h00.
President Joyce Banda’s biggest rival for presidency is Lazarus Chakwera, a former clergyman who heads the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) that led the country’s struggle for independence from Britain.
Sam Chibaya, a former journalist in Malawi, also confirmed the chaos around the elections, saying that in some polling centres, where there were supposed to be 4000 ballot papers, only 2000 could be traced.
He told New Era that some polling stations were not even open by 12h00, as they did not get sufficient ballot papers.
“Generally, things are okay, but there were two places where there were misunderstanding and riots,” he said, adding that there were however no deaths reported.
Chibaya said at one school the headmaster’s office was burned down due to frustrations after a voter used his cellphone to take a picture of a ballot paper. The voter digitally manipulated the picture to make it look as though some candidates’ faces were missing from the ballot paper. “The picture went viral on the internet causing disturbances at the polling centre,” he said.
At another polling station in Blantyre officials erected a tent as it was raining at night, but irate voters pulled down the tent in suspicion.
Chibaya said that in other areas, such as in the capital in Lilongwe, they did not hear of any incidents of violence.
He said although elections were supposed to end at 18h00, they voted until late due to delays.
• Additional reporting by Patson Phiri and the Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) secretariat.
By Magreth Nunuhe