A total of 1 500 Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) ballot boxes that had been lent to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) were on Monday gutted by fire after a warehouse they were stored in was burnt in a suspected case of arson.
Malawi held controversial elections on May 20 and ZEC agreed to provide the MEC with gas lamps and tents on polling day.
In the run-up to the disputed polls, civil society organisations in Malawi expressed discontent over the offer saying ZEC’s involvement in their elections would pose a threat to Malawi’s democracy because Zimbabwe had never held credible elections.
ZEC was accused of aiding Zanu PF to manipulate last year’s elections, a charge the electoral has consistently denied.
According to media reports, the election material, including gas cylinders and lamps, were being kept at a warehouse in the Malawian commercial capital of Lilongwe.
The warehouse was set ablaze amid a High Court case in which one of the losing contestants for the Lilongwe City South constituency Esat Ulemu Msungama of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is challenging the results which saw the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Bentry Namasasu winning.
According to MEC’s chief elections officer Willie Kalonga, the commission was treating the blaze as a normal fire until the cause was established after thorough investigations.
Kalonga was quoted as saying among the items that were gutted in the warehouse include about 1 500 ballot boxes, gas cylinders and gas lamps that were borrowed from ZEC as well as generators, furniture and stationery.
“The commission, in conjunction with relevant authorities, is trying to establish the cause of the fire and the nation will be informed in due course. The cost of the materials damaged is also yet to be established,” said Kalonga.
Last week the Malawi High Court ruled that there should be a recount of the ballots in the disputed Lilongwe South East consitutency, but the recount was stopped after Namasasu obtained a court injunction.
Days before the election, ZEC chairperson Justice Rita Makaru confirmed that the local electoral body would supply the MEC with gas lamps and tents to assist on the polling day.
She said the MEC had asked for the provision of gas lamps, tents, 10 000 gas lamps and 350 tents were sent to Malawi.
Justice Makaru was quoted saying ZEC had entered into a working relationship with MEC and indicated that the partnership was restricted only to procurement of materials that MEC would use on polling day.