BLANTYRE— Civil rights groups and opposition political parties in Malawi are questioning a move by the Malawi Electoral Commission to borrow materials from Zimbabwe for use during the May 20 elections. The commission says it was convenient, but activists say it is a bad idea, given Zimbabwe's poor election record.
Officials of the Malawi Electoral Commission say the commission borrowed 9,500 gas lamps, 8,400 gas cylinders and 350 tents from Zimbabwe. Commission spokesman Sangwani Mwafulirwa told VOA the lamps help during the vote-counting, usually conducted at night, and the tents are for providing shelter for electoral staff.
“In previous elections we have had complaints from stakeholders that the lighting system that we were using, whether it was generators or the lantern lamps, were not providing enough light,” said Mwafulirwa.
But civic organizations and some opposition leaders say Malawi already bought lighting equipment during a previous and should not need should borrow gear from Zimbabwe.
The commission invited stakeholders in the electoral process to inspect the equipment, which arrived in Malawi at the end of March.
But a spokesman for the Civil Society Grand Coalition for Defense of Democracy and Constitution, Lucky Mbewe, told VOA they are still suspicious.
“Our dissatisfaction comes in because the cases of Zimbabwe are very sensitive, because cases of [vote] rigging were rife during their elections,” said Mbewe. “As such, it is difficult for us to trust the Electoral Commission of Malawi, considering the timing and circumstances surrounding this particular [electoral] process.”
Mbewe says the electoral commission should have borrowed equipment from a nation with a clean electoral record, rather than Zimbabwe.
Mwafulirwa says other neighboring nations could not lend equipment because they are holding elections of their own, and Zimbabwe is relatively close.
"It was easier to get these goods from Zimbabwe because they were being brought by road and it was easier to get them faster,” said Mwafulirwa.
Democratic Alliance MP and South African Shadow Minister of Home Affairs Masizole Mnqasela, who observed the Zimbabwean elections, told London-based SW Radio Africa that Malawi should have come to South Africa because it has a credible electoral system and has been training many neighboring countries.
Mbewe says the Coalition is watching to ensure that no vote-rigging takes place.
“What we are doing to keep our eyes open, we are mounting through MESN [Malawi Electoral Support Network] which is a member of the Grand Coalition, which has a lot of monitors across the country who will be our eyes and ears,” said Mbewe. “This is the only alternative we are doing at the moment to ensure that the issues of rigging are taken care of.”
Malawi is expected to hold tripartite elections on May 20 and 7.5 million voters are expected to choose the president, parliamentarians and councilors. Twelve presidential candidates are expected to contest the polls.
However, the major contest has been narrowed down to four presidential candidates whose parties were represented in parliament.
They are Atupele Muluzi on the opposition United Democratic Front, Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party, Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party, and Joyce Banda of the ruling People’s party.