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09LILONGWE110 2009-03-02 15:28:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Lilongwe
Cable title:  

MALAWI ELECTIONS UPDATE: TWO MONTHS TO GO

Tags:   PGOV KDEM AU MI 
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1. (C) Summary: The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has
delayed its long-awaited ruling on former President's
Muluzi's candidacy until after the dissolution of Parliament
on March 20. The MEC's recent discovery that over $2.8
million that had not been properly accounted has dented its
credibility, and more potential fraud may emerge from
additional audits. In the meantime, seconded Ministry of
Finance employees have taken the spots of the ten who were
arrested. A recent AU-sponsored visit by former Presidents
Chissano of Mozambique and Kufour of Ghana sought to
encourage dialogue among Muluzi, MCP leader John Tembo and
President Mutharika, but the recent indictment of Muluzi on
corruption charges threatens to derail any progress that
might have been made in the talks. Recent high-level
advocacy with the GOM appears to have lessened opposition to
the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) plans for
domestic election observation. End Summary.

Muluzi Ruling Won't Delay Elections, says MEC


--------------------------





2. (U) After the Malawi Law Society argued that sitting
members of Parliament could not legally be declared
candidates without resigning their positions, the MEC delayed
its announcement of which candidates were eligible until
March 20, the day the Parliament will be dissolved. Both the
United Democratic Front (UDF) and the MCP said this further
delay would undermine the MEC's credibility and increase
political tension. Legal scholars said the MEC should not
have accepted nominations so early in the electoral calendar
to prevent this problem.



3. (SBU) MEC chair Justice Anastasia Msosa told emboff that
the delayed announcement would not jeopardize the electoral
calendar. Msosa assured emboff that the judiciary would
prioritize election nomination cases and issue final
resolutions within 35 days. MEC staff said that the ballots
could be printed and delivered in under four weeks, which
would still allow for a May 19 polling date with legal
challenges.

Audit Just the Beginning of Financial Woes?


--------------------------





4. (SBU) Concerning its recent snap audit that found over
$2.8 million USD missing, MEC staff told donors it was
difficult to tell how much was malfeasance and how much was
due to improper accounting procedures. Justice Msosa told
emboff that the government had been unable to complete a
follow-up audit covering October-December and the MEC was
requesting donors to pay for a second private audit.
Furthermore, Msosa said it was likely that the MEC would need
private contractors to supervise its financial department,
which was now staffed with seconded workers from the Ministry
of Finance.



5. (SBU) The MEC continues to request additional funding in a
supplementary budget request, but a combined government/donor
analysis showed the new budget request was not enough to
cover what had already been spent in many departments.
According to the analysis, the MEC budget does not adequately
estimate and justify costs, nor has it adhered to its
original budget. Despite the significant overspending, some
areas, most notably information technology, need urgent
funding to pay contractual commitments. Likewise, a lack of
capacity has forced technical advisors to exceed their
contractual obligations in both scope and duration. In many
departments, technical advisors now run the sections and
perform many duties.

Court Faults MEC on Nomination Deposits


--------------------------





6. (U) On February 18, the High Court ruled that the MEC had
violated the law by increasing nomination deposits twentyfold
without consulting political parties. However, Justice
Potani said in his ruling that he could not reverse the MEC's
decision because it would place an undue burden on the
Commission. The ruling may set precedence for future

LILONGWE 00000110 002.2 OF 003


elections, but left claimants with an unclear way forward in
their challenge.

AU Heads of State Mission Asks Muluzi to Bow Out


--------------------------

---



7. (SBU) On February 20, former presidents Joachim Chissano
of Mozambique and John Kufuor of Ghana arrived in Malawi to
meet with President Mutharika, former President Muluzi, and
MCP leader John Tembo in an effort to diffuse pre-election
tension. The mission, described as the first of a series of
pre-election assessments by the African Union, ended with the
announcement that Mutharika, Muluzi, and Tembo had agreed to
direct talks. In a departure press conference, Kufour
described the need for the leaders to engage in dialogue now
to prevent a conflict. However, the next day the
Anti-Corruption Bureau indicted former President Muluzi on 87
counts of corruption (septel) forcing Chissano and Kufour to
plan a return trip to Malawi on March 3.



8. (C) Media reports indicated that Kufour and Chissano came
to Malawi at the behest of President Mutharika. UDF sources
told emboff that the two attempted to convince Muluzi to
withdraw from the election. Muluzi reportedly responded
indignantly to the request, saying he was also a former head
of state. He told Kufour and Chissano that he did not come
to their countries and tell them what to do, so why did they
think they could do this to him? Moreover, Muluzi insisted
that the two ex-leaders did not know what the people of
Malawi wanted -- and he did. Mutharika confidant Davies
Katsonga, the Minister of Labor, told DCM March 2 that the
two presidents had suggested to Mutharika that he offer
Muluzi a full pardon from corruption charges in return for
retiring from politics. Katsonga asked rhetorically why
Mutharika would accept such a deal with a candidate who stood
no chance of winning, and who had engaged in corruption, but
did not clearly rule out such a deal.



9. (C) In addition to the political leaders, Chissano and
Kufour also met with civil society leaders, including Malawi
Electoral Support Network (MESN) Director Aloisius Nthenda.
Nthenda told emboff that Chissano and Kufour admitted they
asked Muluzi to withdraw. The two former presidents also
blamed a weak civil society in Malawi for not putting enough
pressure on the country's leaders. They said they believed
only a strong, coordinated grassroots effort could convince
Muluzi to back down. Kufour and Chissano also commented that
Malawi had by far the most potential for election-related
violence of any country in the region this year.

Malawi Law Society Supports MESN PVT


--------------------------





10. (SBU) On February 25, the Malawi Law Society (MLS)
released a full-page statement to the press commenting on
MESN's proposed parallel vote tally (PVT). The MLS said that
while the results management scheme put in place by the law
was sufficient to deliver a transparent and fair result, it
also allowed for representatives of political parties to be
involved in the counting process. Furthermore, parties are
entitled to copies of official records and can use them to
create their own tally centers without the need of the
approval or permission of the government or MEC. The MLS
said that as an accredited monitor, MESN also could collect
and tabulate official results at their own tally center
without permission. However, the MLS pointed out that in the
event of a results dispute, the MESN PVT results could not be
taken as official, but only used to assist in quickly
identifying problems. MEC Chair Anastasia Msosa has already
publicly stated the MEC will accredit MESN and other civil
society groups as official local monitors.

Progress on Local Election Observation


--------------------------





11. (C) The MLS statement broke a week plus silence about PVT
in the media. While MESN has kept out of the public eye
regarding its proposal, the Ambassador and DCM have privately
lobbied high levels of the GOM to reverse its initial
opposition to a PVT. In separate, private meetings with the
Chief Secretary, President Mutharika's brother, and the
President himself, the Ambassador focused on the positive
aspects of strong domestic observation. Additionally, the

LILONGWE 00000110 003.2 OF 003


Ambassador has encouraged the government to openly invite an
internationally recognized organization to assist MESN so its
efforts will be as effective and transparent as possible.
The GOM has responded positively to these meetings and has
told the Ambassador that organizations such as the National
Democratic Institute or International Republican Institute
are welcome in Malawi.



12. (C) Comment: The consensus among Malawi's election donors
is that the MEC is in internal disarray. Donors will likely
be asked to come up with at least $3 million additional and
probably significantly more. The MEC's poor handling of key
issues such as the nomination calendar have dented its
credibility. The further delay on the announcement regarding
Muluzi's nomination has increased electoral tension and
raised the possibility of a postponement of polling.
Muluzi's recent arrest on corruption charges has further
raised the political temperature. The government's attitude
regarding domestic election observation is a bright spot;
technically sound observation will be necessary. The AU's
pre-electoral mission introduces a potentially significant
new actor to this drama.
BODDE