Malawian Vote-Registration Kit Found in Mozambique, Worrying Opposition Parties, NGOs

November 7, 2018 Updated: November 8, 2018

BLANTYRE, Malawi—Ahead of next year’s general elections in Malawi, opposition groups and NGOs are questioning why a voter-registration kit was found in neighboring Mozambique.

The southeastern African nation’s government, supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), has adopted a biometric system of vote administration for the first time. But late last month, one of the kits—which includes a laptop to store voter data, a fingerprint scanner, and a camera—were discovered on a train in Mozambique.

The train belongs to Vale, a Brazilian engineering and construction company previously contracted to construct a multibillion-dollar rail line between Malawi and Mozambique.

George Mnesa from the Mafunde political party speaks at a press conference.
George Mnesa from the Mafunde political party speaks at a press conference organized by opposition parties on Nov. 6, 2018, to ask for investigations into a missing voter registration kit in Malawi. (Charles Pensulo/Special to The Epoch Times)

While the electoral body, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), admitted that the kit was missing, local NGOs questioned why this was only admitted after the story was brought to light in media reports. It’s not known why the kit was found in Mozambique.

National Police Spokesperson James Kadazera told The Epoch Times that police received a complaint from the electoral body about the “lost but found kit,” but refused to give more details, saying they would be released after further investigation.

Following the revelation, political parties in the country called for the MEC chairperson and CEO to step down, and asked for an independent investigation into the matter.

Adding to the concern was that a laptop used in the registration process was reported as missing a short while after the revelations of the missing kit.

MEC Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah refused to step aside, and downplayed any impacts to the election from the missing kit and the missing laptop, saying “the missing of the equipment has no effect on the registration process and that there is no data lost.”

On Nov. 6, five political opposition parties set to take part in the election held a press conference, reiterating calls for MEC officials to step down, and calling for an investigation into the matter.

Cassim Chilumpha, a former vice president and now a leader for the political party Democracy and Development (ADD), speaking on behalf of the other party representatives, said what is happening in the country is increasingly putting a doubt on the credibility of next year’s election.

Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika.
Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika in this file photo. (Amos Gumulira/AFP/Getty Images)

“In the past, Afrobarometer did research that showed over half of Malawians don’t have trust on the election system. The missing of the kits further is contributing contributes to this,” he said.

“As parties gathered here, we’re doubting whether the elections will be credible. We are not being told what happened and we don’t even know whether they are the only machines that were missing.”

UNDP, one of the partners supporting the technical administration of the election, said it has taken note of the missing and recovery of the registration kits.

“The matter is being investigated by relevant national institutions. MEC has assured that its voter-registration system and data is safe due to data protection and security protocols, which are built-in customized software developed within Malawi—are implemented,” U.N. resident coordinator Maria Jose Torres said in an emailed response.

Malawians will head to the polls in May 2019 to elect their representatives for the president, National Assembly, and local governments.

Malawi’s incumbent president, Peter Mutharika, who recently dismissed corruption reports against him by the country’s Anti-Corruption Bureau are fakes, is seeking re-election for a second term.