MALAWIANS will troop to the polls on May 20 amid fears the elections will be rigged in favour of incumbent President Joyce Banda whose ruling People's Party (PP) is accused of siphoning state funds from the national purse to bankroll the party's election campaign.
Current developments in Malawi confirm the electoral shenanigans exposed by the Zimbabwe Independent last year in which Banda hired expertise from the Zimbabwean government, accused of rigging last year's July 31 elections, for assistance with the forthcoming crucial polls.
Chaos is brewing as opposition political parties in Malawi are questioning the teaming up of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) with the country's electoral body, alleging it is a conspiracy to rig the May 20 polls in favour of Banda.
Last year this paper reported Banda had roped in her new close ally President Robert Mugabe's government and shadowy Israeli security company Nikuv International Projects to computerise the country's home affairs department and supply voter registration cards in preparation for the May elections.
Investigations also revealed the Malawi government sent a team for attachment to the Zimbabwe Registrar General's office to familiarise themselves with the new computerised voter registration system.
Last week's reports that the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) has requested assistance from their Zimbabwean counterparts, Zec, torched a storm with opposition parties calling for the police to launch an investigation amid rigging fears.
Mec claimed it had received 350 tents as well as about 10 000 gas lamps from Zec but the opposition is worried, claiming there could be more to this than meets the eye.
However in an interview with this paper on Wednesday Malawi government spokesperson Brown Mpinganjira said preparations for elections were going on well and Mec operated as an independent body.
"Preparations are at an advanced stage and political parties are submitting their nomination papers," said Mpinganjira. "The issue of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission in assisting Malawi should not be a cause for concern because we have always had good relations with other countries in the region and this does not mean they interfere with the electoral process," he said.
Mpinganjira added: "Our electoral process was done in a transparent manner because we have a new voters' roll after the old one was discredited by government and civic organisations."
He however dismissed reports that the chaos that spoiled the voter registration exercise was a way of disenfranchising eligible voters so as to sway the vote in Banda's in favour. The civic organisations have also voiced their concerns following last week's announcement that it would take a week to announce the winner of the presidential race in the elections.
The head of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Malawi, Chris Chisoni said his organisation was on alert and would deploy observers throughout the country.
"We are aware of the complaints raised in the media given the perception that Zimbabwe's elections were not free and fair hence Mec's involvement with Zimbabwe raises eyebrows," Chisoni said.
Malawi Electoral Support Network boss Steve Duwa said his organisation has already deployed long term observers and questions were being raised concerning Zimbabwe's role in the polls.
"People wanted to know that apart from those lamps and tents, what else the government is borrowing from Zimbabwe," Duwa said.
Zec chairperson Rita Makarau confirmed there has been collaboration between the two "sister election management bodies".
"They (Mec) asked for assistance and we provided 8 000 gas lamps and a team from Malawi was in the country for training in election management," Makarau said.
"The Malawian Electoral Commission also asked for our results management forms to see if they suit their election process. These are forms that are used for the transmission of results from different centres."
Malawi's elections are already marred by complaints regarding the allegedly bloated figure of total registered voters and a chaotic voter registration exercise -- which also marred polls in Zimbabwe last year -- that took three false starts.
In addition, the Malawi Congress Party also alleged that the ruling PP has purchased police uniforms to be used by civilians during the election, as part of the rigging process.
Sources say Banda's government wants Nikuv, which launched its activities on the African continent in 1994 in Nigeria and has since expanded its operations to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Botswana and Angola.
The official also claimed Banda's relationship with Mugabe was motivated by the desire to ensure she remained in office.
"We have lost confidence in Banda and we hope our candidate (Atupele Muluzi, son of former president Bakili Muluzi) will not lose due to fraud as Mugabe has a reputation of rigging elections," the official said.