A group of citizens in a town in central Malawi banded together to intercept 16 men who they believed had been sent by the ruling party in an attempt to influence the presidential election set for the next day, June 23. Several of the men, who were eventually handed over to the army and the police, admitted that this was the case. Our Observer says that this failed mission shows just how desperate and ill-prepared the presidential party was for this election.

On June 23, people in Malawi returned to the polls to vote for a president for the second time in just over a year. In early 2020, the Supreme Court nullified the results of the May 2019 election.

The incumbent president, Peter Mutharika, who is from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won with a lead of just 159,000 votes over his rival, Lazarus Chakwera, from the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

That is, until falsified tally sheets marked with white correction fluid were discovered. This incident divided the country, which was rocked by anti-government protests and widespread violence.

Ahead of the elections, some of the most serious tension has been boiling over in the district of Nkhotakota. On June 22, a group of locals swarmed and attacked a minibus, as shown in videos posted on Twitter by the human rights organisation HRDC. The footage shows a group of people attacking several men and, in some cases, hitting them. Soldiers struggled to extract the men from the crowd and maintain order.

This video shows a military vehicle pulling up to the location where the men were identified. (Video: AIH NEWS).
 
According to local media outlets, these men were former soldiers from the Malawi Defence Forces, who were recruited by the incumbent president’s party, the DPP, and sent to Nkhotakota where they were supposed to try and pass themselves off as election observers.

A crowd went after these fake election observers, who had to be rescued by soldiers. (Videos posted on Twitter).
 

"The presidential party organized their campaign badly”

Daniel Mughogho, a journalist with AIH News, covered the incident. He told us what happened:

Locals noticed that something was off with these men as soon as they arrived in town on Monday night, the night before the election. One of the first things people noticed was that their car had a normal licence plate, while election observers have special licence plates. The car also had tinted windows. And even before they came to town, there were rumours circulating that men sent by the DPP were going to show up claiming to be election observers.

As soon as their minibus came into town, people started tailing them. When they stopped to get gas at a service station, a group surrounded them and handed them over to the soldiers. Their minibus was burned.

Each group allowed to have election observers [Editor’s note: including political parties, NGOs and international organisations] has to declare their names a few days before the election. But the DPP hadn’t reported these men; their names weren’t on any list.

 This photo was taken in front of the police station in Nkhotakota on June 22. (Photo: AIH News).
 
The police reported that the men were each carrying 100,000 kwachas (roughly 120 euros), which they were probably going to use to bribe voters. One of the men admitted that they had been hired by the Ministry of the Interior and they accepted because they were living off pitiful pensions.

In my point of view, if the DPP is doing this, it’s because they organised their campaign badly. They spent a long time choosing the vice presidential candidate [Editor’s note: The current vice president is from another party, which belongs to the opposition coalition]. They only really launched their campaign less than two months ago, even though the opposition had started long before that. In fact, there are regions in Malawi, including the centre [Editor’s note: where Nkhotakota is located] and in the north, where the DPP didn’t even campaign. So I think this move was an attempt to compensate for that failure.


Medson Natachaya, an official with the electoral commission, reported on Monday evening that the men had admitted that they were recruited by the DPP to “help” the party during the election in Nkhotakota on June 23. One even claimed that it was the Minister of Interior Security Nicholas Dausi who approached them directly. Natachaya said that none of the men were carrying falsified ballots or ballots that had already been filled out, though there were plenty of rumours circulating that they were. According to our Observer, the DPP has rejected these accusations.

Malawi’s 2019 presidential election is only the second election in the history of Africa to be nullified, after the Kenyan Supreme Court threw out the results of their 2017 presidential election.