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I know I briefly dwelt on this in my last post, but I was moved to add to this by the coverage of the Malawian elections (such as it has been) in the mainstream British media, and in particular of Joyce Banda’s accusations concerning vote rigging. Both the Guardian and the BBC featured remarkably uncritical accounts of Banda’s accusations, which included claims of computer hacking, pre-filled ballot papers, multiple voting, and more.   Now, of course accusations of rigging shouldn’t necessarily be taken lightly, but the very striking thing about these accusations is that they came at a time when Banda had already lost many of her cabinet ministers in their various parliamentary races, and it was becoming clearer that she might not only be losing the presidential race, but coming in third. To put this into context, concerns about the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) had been raised for many months before the election, with very little action taken to remedy any of them. Specifically, the problems with validating the electoral roll had been known for several months, and yet the MEC had been allowed to carry on as normal right up, it appears, to Banda’s accusations on Thursday.   Let’s broaden the context out further. This was an incumbent President accusing the opposition of rigging the elections. Think about that. An incumbent President, with if not all then at least most of the machinery of state at her disposal, accusing a fragmented opposition of rigging the election. Sounds unlikely? Indeed. In fact, following her accusations Banda made a very public display of her power by forcing the Director General of the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, Benson Tembo, on extended leave because he seemingly refused to broadcast the press conference where Banda announced her accusations (the move was later overturned by the High Court…a sign of opposition rigging?).   I’m going to broaden the scope out again. Joyce Banda, whether because her advisers are many of those who advised her ill-fated predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika, or because she is not so dissimilar to Bingu, Muluzi, et al as she would have everyone believe, has from the very off engaged in the kind of behaviour which had gotten her predecessors a bad press in media outlets like the Guardian and BBC, but which for her seemed to slide right off. There were the sacks of maize emblazoned with her initials, distributed in rural areas to hungry people. Who paid for them? Did Banda personally stump up the cash (in which case was she buying support)? Or was she using (and thus abusing) state funds? We never got an answer. Then there was the plethora of foreign trips, including a room at Claridges in London for her husband during the London Olympics. There was the jet sale that ended up allowing her to continue using the jet, whilst the new owner (an arms firm) benefitted from government contracts. And of course, Cashgate, which was so severe that donors and mainstream media outlets really had to take notice. The point is however that this was always coming. The Joyce Banda hailed by the Guardian in 2012 as ‘Madame President’ never existed. And the fact of the matter is that it is the people of Malawi that knew this all along, and, in no way surprising at all, have sent their message at the polls.

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