According to Kalonga, some 1,500 ballot boxes, gas cylinders, gas lamps, electricity generators, furniture and stationery were destroyed in the inferno. He said the Commission, in conjunction with the police and city authorities, was investigating the cause of the fire
He was, however, quick to add that “at the moment, the Commission is treating the incident as a normal fire incident until the cause is established.”
But, coincidentally, the warehouse – situated in Area 4 along the Paul Kagame Highway in the heart of the city – was housing ballot boxes at the centre of a parliamentary result dispute in which an opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate has sued MEC for a recount of the ballots whose official tally after the May 20 elections declared President Peter Mutharika’s governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate the winner.
MEC declared DPP’s Bently Namasasu winner with 10,956 votes beating Ulemu Msungama of the MCP, who officially polled 10,854 votes, by 98 votes.
But Msungama challenged the result in court to force a recount in three polling centres he claims the tally was suspicious. The court ordered a recount last Monday which failed to take place because Msungama challenged the recount order.
The High Court was set to hear argument for or against the recount this Thursday.
MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa confirmed that the Area 4 warehouse was the one in which the disputed ballots were stored.
“We are investigating what happened,” he said.
Opposition parties, led by the main opposition MCP and the former governing People’s Party (PP) of former president Joyce Banda, accused Mutharika and his DPP of rigging the polls by tampering with the figures. Banda, Africa’s second female president who eventually came third in the elections, attempted to annul the entire electoral process but the courts ruled that she did not have such overriding powers.
On his part Rev. Lazarus Chakwera, the cleric-turned-politician who came second to Mutharika as MCP candidate, went to court to fight for a recount of the presidential ballots. Although the courts ordered the recount, the exercise was turned into an academic one as the electoral body had to recount some 5 million votes within two hours to beat the eight-day deadline by which it had to release the elections’ results.
With the crucial ballots up in flames in the Lilongwe incident, any recount order may also be rendered academic since there will be no ballot to recount as Malawi does not have an electronic back-up for ballots.-AGV