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Perceptions matter


is created

and twisted so quickly”

Louis C. K.

Perceptions matter a lot in politics. Whether they have basis or not, but perceptions do matter regardless. Runaway perceptions often take a life of their own and become the ‘known reality’ to so many people.

The past week, therefore, has not been a particularly good one for the Malawi Electoral Commission. I mean, if it was not losing court battles one after the other, the electoral body was busy bungling the voter verification exercise.

Let us start with the latter.

The voter verification exercise was a complete disaster it had to be abandoned. Look, if MEC was not knocking 50 years off John Tembo’s life, it was affixing female pictures on male voters’ details or vice versa.

These problems seem to be all over the place one wonders whether MEC will have time to clean up the voters’ roll with less than 50 days to the polling day.

The reasons MEC gave for the abrupt suspension of the exercise beggars belief. MEC knew from May 2009 that the next elections will be held in May 2014.

And one assumes that the electoral body, being Malawian, knows the country’s seasons very well.

So for Chief Elections Officer Willie kalonga to attribute the suspension of the exercise to heavy rains is less than convincing. MEC must have known the electoral calendar. It should; after all it is the one that devises it. It is, therefore, playing with our intelligence to suggest that MEC failed to deliver material and staff in time. Someone is clearly not doing their job, and that is, trust me, a dangerous thing to do in a hotly contested race like this one.

But, if truth be told, the real reason for the suspension of the voter verification exercise is clearly the messy voters’ roll. This, again, makes the whole suspension of the verification exercise ill advised.

This is how I mean: for starters, I thought the reason behind the verification of the voters’ roll is to cross check if all captured data is correct? If so, how does MEC hope to correct this on its own without the voters? I thought the voters must come and tell them that, “Yes, my name is John Zenus Ungapake Tembo, but – trust me, good people – I wasn’t born in 1982; I was actually born on September 14, 1932! A Mbendera mwandibera zaka zanga zambiri ndithu!”

MEC does not have the luxury of time. It has to clean up the messy voters’ roll and open it up again for re-inspection. 

I agree the mess in the voters’ roll may be purely technical but it opens up MEC to unnecessary suspicions that someone wants to tinker with the elections in favour of someone. Who that ‘someone’ is, your guess is as good as the next guy’s.

But suffice to say that already some parties are on record to have complained that thousands of potential voters in their strongholds were refused registration for one reason or the other.

And, to add to this hoopla, computer hard disks grew legs at the MEC headquarters.

MEC downplayed the significance of such incidents but the electoral body should have fought hard to create no room for suspicion.

But now MEC has to explain some wacky conspiracy theories. The victim of such theories is always the governing party. Already there are suggestions that the misprinted voters’ roll is a gimmick to create as much null and void votes as possible in areas where the People’s Party is not strong.

It would be a stretch of the imagination right now to claim that someone is trying to cook the voters’ roll with the intention of manipulating the elections. But we have seen how, across the borders in Zimbabwe last year, the voters’ roll was a helluva mess. The voter inspection exercise was abandoned before it began; thousands of bona fide voters were turned away on polling day.

This inevitably led to a disputed result. Trust me, we do not want that happening in this our beloved country.

Of course, for a rational mind it is difficult to comprehend how PP can benefit from this when the messy voters’ roll seems to be across the country. But how many are rational among the 15 million of us?

MEC has its work cut out for it. It has to try to spruce up its image in the 50 days remaining before the polls…

…A gargantuan task, of course, but not undoable. It has to take Maxon Mbendera to tell his troops at MEC that, ‘Folks, we’re not looking good; let’s prove we can pull this thing off.”


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