The official campaign period for the May 21 Tripartite Elections which started this week will surely be a frenzy of activity. But with all due respect, political parties and candidates have been campaigning for a long time.
In my view, the main narrative of the official campaign period is to try and sanitise the last 60 days as campaigning gets dirtier, nastier and stiffer with the polling day drawing closer. But with the political landscape already poisoned, to talk about elections being fair is a farce.
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Justice Jane Ansah used the launch on March 19 to spell out MEC’s expectations from political parties and candidates, government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), traditional leaders, civil society organisations, the electorates and the media.
The key message was that having signed the Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates, parties and candidates should abide by it. That the campaign messages should be issue-based; that they should stick to the substance of their manifestos and not focus on castigations and hate speech. Ansah observed that sound manifestos articulate achievable programmes that will enhance the development of the country and improve people’s well-being. She reflected on the need for political parties to desist from hate speeches targeted at female candidates accorded an equal opportunity to campaign freely during this period without fear of intimidation and violence. She also noted that political parties and candidates should not abuse the youths by sponsoring them as instruments of violence, disrupting political rallies and doing other unpalatable things.
Justice Ansah also spoke about the crucial role of the police and security institutions in maintaining peace during the campaign period; that stakeholders expect the Malawi Police Service to remain professional and neutral and treat all political players equally and ensure that those who commit electoral offences are swiftly brought to book, irrespective of whether they are from the ruling party. That no one should be spared.
She spoke about the role of the 120 civil society organisations accredited to provide civic and voter education.
The Commission expects the CSOs to work hand in hand with district commissioners who will have registers in which to record notifications for campaign meetings and venues which should reflect the legal requirement of first-come-first-served basis.
All this was perfectly in order. What was regrettable is that there was no mention of how atrocities and electoral violence committed before the official campaign period will be dealt with. The impression given is that MEC does not even have a record of such. The arson attacks on vehicles belonging to opposition leaders in Mangochi and other areas of the country, the hooliganism by some party cadets at the Parliament Building last year in Lilongwe, for example, all seemed to be water under the bridge.
The same Malawi Police Service and security institutions which have failed to arraign law breakers during the past year, are all of a sudden expected to be professional and neutral. How this will be done, I have no clue.
Talking about the media in general, Justice Ansah encouraged the media houses to continue being neutral players. I don’t know what neutrality she was talking about when the public broadcaster—Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)—has unashamedly been the most biased. There is no contestation that MBC has been a thorn in the flesh. The Commission should have condemned this.
The 30-minute messages from opposition parties MBC has promised to be airing during the next 60 days of the official campaign period cannot turn the public broadcaster into a neutral and a truly people centred broadcaster. It is a far cry from the true North we desire of a facility run on taxpayer’s money. The content in all MBC’s programmes needed to be revisited a long time ago to transform it from the poisoned chalice it is.