Why there’s no winner in Malawi’s election

May 30, 2014

Voters wait in the rain to cast their votes at the polling center on the grounds of the Gymkhana Club in Zomba, Malawi, on May 20. Voters arrived before polls were scheduled to open at 6 a.m. and the polling center opened 30 minutes late. (Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage)

Continuing our series of Monkey Cage Election Reports, the following is an almost-post-election report on last week’s tripartite election in Malawi.

*****

Ten days ago, the small, landlocked country of Malawi held an election. As I write this, there has still been no official announcement as to who won – not for the presidency, the 193 seats in parliament  nor the 462 local assembly seats.

Technically, the Malawi Electoral Commission is charged to announce election results within eight days of the final vote being cast (see Section 99 of Part VIII of Chapter 2.01 in Malawi’s Electoral Laws). Why is it, then, that 10 days after the election, we still don’t know who the winners are?

First, the election that began  May 20 did not end until May 22. Though the polls were only scheduled to be open  May 20, delays in distribution of electoral materials (which in some cases led to violent disruptions) led to delayed opening of polling centers, some of which did not commence voting until May 22. The final vote was cast May 22, making today the technical deadline for the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to make an announcement.

Nonetheless, it is unclear whether MEC will make an announcement. According to a statement made to the media by Commissioner Maxon Mbendera on May 28, MEC has known for at least two days the winner of the presidential election. Though Mbendera stated MEC was obligated to announce the results by today, in his statement he also asserted that MEC had a 48-hour grace period if needed to resolve complaints about irregularities lodged to MEC.

I am not convinced there has been widespread rigging of elections (despite the current president’s allegations), but the election in Malawi has had irregularities. It is important to note that many of these have come to light because Malawians have been using the mechanisms available to them via MEC’s complaint system. In a news  statement made last night, Mbendera said that MEC had  processed 248 complaints, of which 216 had been resolved. An example of the irregularities being investigated by MEC is the 65 (of 4,445) polling centers that reported vote tallies greater than the number of voters registered.

MEC seems to be relying on how Malawi’s high court will direct them to act. Much of the saga following last week’s election has played out in the courts (and arguably, via news conferences/statements). The High Court in Malawi is  adjourned in its meeting to determine whether MEC should recount votes or announce a winner.

What does this mean for Malawi going forward?

The honest answer is no one knows for certain. Today, protests turned violent in Mangochi, a lakeshore area in Southern Malawi. Supporters of parties whose presidential candidates have lost are calling for a recount of the votes. It is reported that one protester was shot dead and others (including police) have been injured.

Though I expect Peter Mutharika will eventually be declared winner — he was leading when MEC had tallied 30 percent of votes, he was projected to win according to the Malawi Electoral Support Network’s parallel vote tabulation, and he had the greatest share of reported vote intentions from participants in a recent Afrobarometer poll — current President Joyce Banda has shown she will not leave office quietly. Additionally (and surprisingly), the Malawi Congress Party today released a statement saying their tally of votes suggests that their presidential candidate, the Rev. Lazarus Chakwera, has won the presidential election. Though I thought it possible that Chakwera could win (I had no such thoughts that Banda would win), I think the probability that he won a plurality of votes in last week’s election is very low.

In sum, I’m not holding my breath that a winner will be announced today — and I’m not sure anyone is a winner with this poorly run election whose delays and uncertainty have generated tension in an otherwise peaceful country.

Kim Yi Dionne is Five College Assistant Professor of Government at Smith College. She studies identity, public opinion, political behavior, and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries.
Continue reading
Comments
Show Comments