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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09LILONGWE157 2009-03-23 15:27:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Lilongwe
Cable title:  

MALAWI ELECTION UPDATE: IS MEC STILL INDEPENDENT?

Tags:   PGOV KDEM MI 
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VZCZCXRO7311
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHLG #0157/01 0821527
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 231527Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY LILONGWE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0398
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0325
RUEHBZ/AMEMBASSY BRAZZAVILLE 0016
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LILONGWE 000157 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/23/2019
TAGS: PGOV KDEM MI
SUBJECT: MALAWI ELECTION UPDATE: IS MEC STILL INDEPENDENT?

REF: LILONGWE 110 AND PREVIOUS

LILONGWE 00000157 001.2 OF 002


Classified By: Ambassador Peter Bodde for reasons 1.4 (b), (d)



1. (C) Summary: The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), while
still reeling from an audit that discovered an unaccounted
$2.8 million USD (reftel), appears on track logistically and
operationally for a May 19 election date. However, legal
challenges over former President Muluzi's denied nomination
are a risk to the calendar (septel). On March 20, the MEC
announced the list of candidates, denying only Muluzi's
presidential bid and one parliamentary candidate. Political
parties criticized the MEC for failing to allow new
candidates to register after the Commission announced which
candidates were eligible to run. The MEC confirmed that two
National Intelligence Service (NIS) officers have been
supplied to the MEC to help with staffing, raising opposition
suspicions of government interference. In a recent meeting,
a high level Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) official told
emboff that the ruling party had consulted with the MEC on
nomination deposit levels and encouraged the twenty-fold
increase from 2004. The MEC has now decided to also modify
its results management system without consulting political
parties. In previous elections, the tallies of each ballot
box were made public, but this year results will be tabulated
at the polling station level. Comment: There are signs that
the MEC may no longer be able to act independently. The
appearance of NIS officers will fuel opposition claims that
the government is planning to manipulate upcoming elections.
End Summary.

Campaigns Start, Candidates Announced


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





2. (U) The official campaign period began on March 17, but
without a MEC-approved list of eligible candidates. After
meeting with political parties on March 13, the MEC instead
announced it would reopen nominations on March 18 and 19 to
allow additional nominees to submit paperwork. Opposition
political parties protested, saying they had asked MEC for an
additional nomination period after the announcement of
candidates, not before. The opposition parties said the
purpose of the new period was to replace nominees that did
not qualify. During the supplementary two day nomination
period, 33 new parliamentary nominees turned in forms. On
March 20, the MEC announced the list of eligible candidates.
The MEC rejected only former President Muluzi and New Rainbow
Coalition parliamentary candidate Yeremiah Chihana. Muluzi
immediately announced his intention to challenge the decision
at the High Court (SEPTEL).

Donors Unable to Rationalize MEC Supplementary Request


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



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





3. (SBU) After a month-long effort to rationalize the MEC's
$14 million USD supplementary budget request, development
partners abandoned the effort. Despite repeated attempts,
MEC department managers were unable to justify new requests
or explain past spending. Without a new justifiable budget
request, development partners will ask the MEC to negotiate
with the Ministry of Finance regarding its request. While
this will not preclude any individual donor from contributing
additional money to the MEC, so far no donor has indicated it
will make an additional contribution. Moreover, the UN
basket fund for electoral support continues to have a $2.4
million USD shortfall due to exchange rate losses. Any new
donor funds will first be used to cover this gap.

Finance Department Still Suffering From Audit Findings


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



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





4. (U) Ten former employees from the MEC's finance department
remain in police custody pending an investigation regarding
$2.8 million USD that was unaccounted for in a recent audit.
The UN-managed donor trust fund will pay for an additional
audit covering October 2008 to January 2009 in an effort to
determine the full extent of the potential fraud or
mismanagement may be. While government employees from the
Ministry of Finance have been seconded to the MEC, a private
accounting firm will also be brought in to ensure
transparency and accountability.

Intel Officers Reportedly Sent to "Help"


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





5. (U) In addition to Ministry of Finance personnel, on March
18, the Nation newspaper reported that two National
Intelligence Service (NIS) officers have been deployed to the
MEC to help staff the Commission. In the story, MEC chair

LILONGWE 00000157 002.2 OF 002


Justice Msosa confirmed that the NIS officers reported for
duty, but said the MEC had not specifically requested them.
Msosa said the MEC asked the government for additional
information technology staff and was not sure what role the
NIS officers were supposed to fill. United Democratic Front
(UDF) leaders immediately claimed that the NIS officers were
put in place to help rig the May election. MEC publicity
officer Fergus Lipenga confirmed to emboff that one NIS
officer was working in the information technology department
and another in the public relations department. Additional
NIS officers have been deployed to the districts as well.

Logistics and Operations On Target for May


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





6. (SBU) In a March 19 meeting with emboffs, UNDP-funded
technical consultants at the MEC said that logistics and
operational plans remain on track. Chief Elections
Consultant Frank Vassalo said that inspection of the voters
roll would commence on March 30 and end on April 3. Even
with a large number of corrections, the MEC will still be
able to print the final voters rolls well in advance of May


19. The printer is contractually bound to deliver the
ballots to Malawi within four weeks. The chief information
technology consultant also said he had verified that all 30
field sites from which returns would be submitted had
acceptable power, phone, and Internet capabilities to
electronically transmit data to the MEC headquarters.

DPP Official: "We set MEC Deposit Levels"


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





7. (C) In a recent meeting, Harry Mkandawire, the former
regional governor for the DPP in the Northern region, told
emboff that the DPP met about the issue of nomination fees
last fall. Mkandawire, himself a DPP parliamentary
candidate, said the party's priority was to discourage DPP
primary losers from standing as independents. He said the
party first suggested to the MEC that is set fees of $3,500
USD for parliamentary candidates and $21,000 USD for
presidential candidates, but ultimately settled on $700 USD
for parliament and $3500 USD for president. The MEC later
announced the new deposit levels. Mkandawire also confirmed
that the DPP paid the deposit for all 193 DPP parliamentary
aspirants ($135,100 USD) in a single check, but could not say
where the funds had come from.

MEC Will Announce Center Level Counts


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





8. (C) With elections only two months away, the MEC is only
now finalizing its results management system. According to
Vassalo, the MEC has decided to announce only one result per
polling location. This is a departure from past elections
where individual ballot box results were announced. Vassalo
said that the MEC is also leaning towards co-mingling all
ballot boxes for the final count. He said that he did not
recommend this method, but it had been successfully done in
Zambia. Vassalo said the MEC was trying to reduce arithmetic
errors by co-mingling, but assured emboff that the MEC would
have procedures in place to reconcile all ballots before the
count to prevent stuffing. Vassalo admitted that the MEC had
yet to discuss the planned counting method with political
parties, many of who would likely view the co-mingling
approach as prone to tampering.


Comment: Is MEC Still Independent?


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





9. (C) Begin Comment: There are some signs that the MEC may
no longer be able to act independently. The arrival of NIS
officers at MEC headquarters and district offices is
worrying. Lipenga told emboffs that so far the NIS staff is
just observing, but their mere presence will fuel further
opposition claims of a rigged election. UNDP IT consultant
Tony Farnum (strictly protect) who has worked at the MEC
since before the 2004 elections, told emboff that he was
concerned. He recounted how the Muluzi government locked him
out of his office for four weeks after polling day in 2004.
The private disclosure that the ruling party consulted the
MEC on nomination deposits further damages the MEC's
reputation of being independent. Without clear
communication, the opposition will also perceive the change
of the results reporting scheme as a further indication that
it is the GOM, rather than the MEC, that will "manage
results." End Comment.
BODDE