Former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki (Centre), who is the chairperson of the Commonwealth Observer Group, speaks to the media in Malawi on Thursday. PHOTO: Supplied by the Commonwealth Secretariat.

JOHANNESBURG - Former South Africa president, Thabo Mbeki, who is the Chairperson of the Commonwealth Observer Group, on Thursday said the Malawi election has so far been handled with “professionalism and dedication”.

As Malawians await the results of their general elections, the Commonwealth group observing the polls has commended the country for ensuring a peaceful electoral process to date.

The contest is still too close to call in a three-way race between incumbent President Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party, deputy president turned opponent Saulos Chilima, and Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party. 

Mbeki said although the initial pace of tallying was slow, the observer group will continue to follow progress in the days ahead. He stressed the importance of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) being given the time and space to conclude its work.

Issuing the Group’s interim statement in Blantyre two days after the election, Mbeki said that the opening, voting, closing and counting processes at polling stations have been handled with professionalism and dedication so far.

“It was noted that, for the 2019 elections, and for the first time in its electoral history, Malawi adopted a biometric voter registration process. In addition to collecting voters’ biographical data, their photographs were captured," said Mbeki. 

"The voter registration process was also tied to the government’s national civil registration process, through which citizens were provided with national ID cards. These innovations enhanced the integrity of the process."

The Observer Group praised the MEC for making considerable efforts to implement recommendations made by observer missions following the previous elections in 2014.

However, it noted some inconsistencies in the application of procedures, particularly after the close of polls, for example the completion of the reconciliation forms.

The Observer Group said there were also inconsistent interpretations of what constituted a null or void vote, though these were clearly set out in the polling procedures. 

The Commonwealth Observer Group has been in Malawi since 15 May. Members were deployed to all three regions of the country, where they observed the election environment and preparation of the polls.

Commonwealth support for Malawi’s electoral process also included the development of a toolkit to implement its Media Code of Conduct and a workshop to prepare women candidates for the election by providing training in leadership, conflict sensitivity and campaign skills.

The final report will be completed before the Group departs on 28 May, and made public at a later date.

African News Agency (ANA)