Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) stage-managed their Tuesday’s convention elections to make Atupele Muluzi to win the party’s chairman and presidential candidacy despite being ineligible to contest in the elections, it has emerged.

The party’s constitution stood against his election at the convention even before the conference changed it to accommodate him, an analyst has indicated.

Article 13 (b) (ii) of the original UDF constitution stated that: “No person shall be eligible for election as National Chairman or the 1st or 2nd Vice National Chairman of the party unless he or she has at least thirty-five [35] years of age.”

Atupele, 34, was thus ineligible for the chairmanship until some minutes before voting began. This was after the convention amended this clause, scrapped of the age limit and left it open.

President of Political Scientists Association, Joseph Chunga, on Wednesday said accepting Atupele’s nomination form when the party knew he was under-qualified by their own constitution was clear enough that he it was staged to suit him.

“By the time these contestants were submitting nomination forms, the UDF constitution at that particular time did not allow somebody of Atupele’s age [below 35 years] to stand. That meant he had no basis whatsoever to collect those forms and let alone submit them.

“The organisers [of the convention] had an electoral commission and whoever was processing those nomination forms was not supposed to accept Atupele’s form because he was not eligible to contest for that position at the convention at his age.

“So, by allowing him to submit those nominations forms, even before the constitution was amended, could be a reasonable basis for somebody to argue that Atupele was assisted onto that position,” Chunga said.

Executive Director for National Elections Systems Network Unandi Banda Banda, who was one of the electoral commissioners at the convention, said deliberately participating in an election without meeting the requirements was “rigging of highest order”.

“Rigging takes different forms. One of these forms is when somebody impresses on the people that he has reached the age required by the law to compete in an election, when in fact he has not,” said Banda.

But he said as the electoral body, they had no powers to deal with the problem because all they were told was to only manage the elections at the convention and not look into eligibility issues.

“In fact, we were not even pleased with whatever transpired at the convention. The only request which came to us [electoral commissioners] was to assist them manage the elections,” Banda said.

Atupele could not be reached on his mobile phone when we tried it yesterday evening but chairperson of the organising committee of the convention Lillian Patel admitted that the electoral body was not directed to scrutinise candidates but to just manage elections.

She said completed nomination forms were submitted in different parts of the country and were later brought to the electoral body, waiting for voting and there was nothing like scrutinising the candidates.

But she suggested that even if Atupele had come into the convention ineligible, the amendments made to the party’s constitution made him qualify.

“When the name [of Atupele Muluzi] was being announced at the convention by the electoral commission, the constitution had already been changed, making Atupele eligible. And that was not rigging,” Patel said.

These details come on the back of similar observations by the party’s senior member George Nga Mtafu who told this paper that there was a pre-arrangement to make Atupele UDF leader at the Tuesday national convention.

This view was also shared by Friday Jumbe, who leads a UDF faction.

Atupele trounced his competitors amassing over 2000 votes against 23 votes of his nearest rival Moses Dossi.

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