Electoral Commission allowed Bingu to exploit law in 2009 elections

The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) in 2009 allowed the late president Bingu wa Mutharika to exploit the electoral law and have names of presidential candidates in alphabetical order of first names instead of surnames so that his name would appear first on the ballot paper.

Former MEC chairperson Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Anastasia Msosa said in an interview last week that the change was prompted by the candidate.

“That is how he [the late Bingu wa Mutharika] wanted his name to appear on the ballot. We just accepted it innocently,” said Msosa.

She added: “We asked the candidates how they wanted their names to appear on the ballot. Our understanding of the law is that one has to show how he wants his name to show.”

Section 51 of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act clearly states that: “As soon as practicable after the sitting of the commission to receive nominations of candidates for elections to office of President under this part, the commission shall cause to be published in the Gazette and on the radio and in a newspaper in general circulation in Malawi, the names of all candidates who have been validly nominated for election to the Office of President in alphabetical order of surnames.”

Msosa said candidates from other political parties were given the same opportunity. But in May 2009, opposition political parties protested against the change, saying it was part of the rigging process.

Former UDF deputy secretary general Hophmally Makande claimed then that the ruling DPP instructed MEC to change the former president’s name.

“We queried at one of the meetings and MEC accepted that it was wrong. We demanded to see the template which had the changed name and we confirmed it. They want the name to be the first on the list,” Makande is quoted as saying.

MCP director of political affairs Joseph Njobvuyalema said at the time it was surprising the commission allowed DPP to change Mutharika’s name after it assured the stakeholders it would not do so.

Chancellor College political scientist Dr. Blessings Chinsinga said last Tuesday it was obvious that MEC received political pressure to list the names in order of first names.

Chinsinga said there is empirical evidence that a candidate whose name appears first on the ballot paper has more advantages than the one appearing on the bottom.

He also observed that, although legally correct, current efforts by MEC to correct the anomaly could be interpreted as favouring President Joyce Banda whose surname will be on top on the ballot paper.

MEC director of media and public relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa said the commission did not break a law in 2009, but exploited a loophole in the electoral law.

“For the 2009 elections, MEC never broke any law by allowing the former State president to use the name, Bingu so that he comes on top on the alphabetical list of the presidential candidates. Section 55(a) of Presidential and Parliamentary Elections (PPE) Act clearly states that candidates’ names should be arranged in alphabetical order of surnames when MEC is giving a public notice on a poll to be taken. The same spirit is shared by section 51 of the PPE Act that when publishing names of presidential candidates they should be in alphabetical order of surnames. However, what happened in 2009 presidential elections was an exploitation of a loophole in the electoral legislation that arises because of Section 76 (b),” said Mwafulirwa.

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