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Malawi NGO Doubts Guarantees of Free and Fair Polls

In Malawi, a local think tank, the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI), says it doubts assurances by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) that next week's presidential and parliamentary elections will be free and fair.

The executive director of IPI, Rafik Hajat, says there have been problems with the electoral process – for example, the cameras used for the photographs on voter identity cards.

"As you know thousands of cameras didn't work. And the challenges facing both the registration of voters and verification of voters' rolls [has] shown…me that the whole process was mismanaged," he says.

But Malawi Electoral Commission spokesperson Fegus Lipenga says the problem was solved by replacing the faulty cameras. And, he says the registration period was extended to about three weeks to give room to those who did not register because of the faulty equipment.

"Procurement is in progress. A lot of things have already arrived in preparation for the polls. The civil society is out there educating people on how to vote and all other information as regard to elections. And also at the Electoral Commission we are now working on the voter list to make it ready for the poll," she says.

MEC's commissioner, Georgina Chikoko says everything is now in place to ensure free and fair elections.

The executive director of the Institute for Policy Interaction says there's been political interference from the electoral commission and that it ignores the complaints of observers.

"The appointment of the commissioners has never been ratified by parliament and…the commission feels beleaguered. It feels like it's in a battle and it has to defend itself," he says.

Government spokesperson Patricia Kaliati responds by saying the composition of the commissioners is legitimate, since it's the mandate of the president to appoint them and no commissioner is affiliated with a political party.

Some complain that the state media is favoring the ruling party. The state-owned media has refused to allot free air time for opposition advertisements because the opposition-controlled parliament refused to fund them.

But electoral commission spokesperson Fegus Lipenga says the board offered to fund commercials designed by the political parties that would run on the state run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and Malawi Television. He says the political parties instead decided to advertise only on private radio stations. So he says the commission is paying for political parties' campaign messages on private radio stations.

This year's presidential and parliamentary elections will be the fourth to be held since 1994 when Malawi embraced multiparty democracy.

Over the years the stakeholders have been accusing the electoral commission of supporting the incumbent political party – an allegation it vehemently denies.