UTM Party secretary general Patricia Kaliati says 464 contestants will today battle it out for 193 constituency slots in the party’s first ever primary elections.
She was speaking yesterday afternoon in Blantyre where some party officials met to consolidate figures of those contesting to represent the party in the primary polls in 462 wards.
According to Kaliati, of the 464 contenders, 80 are women, which represents just 17 percent , a far cry from the 50:50 target for equal representation in political leadership.
She said: “The Centre has the highest number of contestants at 198, followed by South with 108, the North has 80 aspirants while the Eastern Region has registered 78 candidates.”
The newly-formed party is set to introduce two firsts in the primaries—conducting polls in all constituencies and wards simultaneously and not blindfolding candidates as is traditionally done.
But UTM, which touts itself as taking a transformative approach to politics, says voters will still have to queue behind their preferred candidates in the primaries to elect party representatives for the May 21 Tripartite Elections.
UTM director of publicity Joseph Chidanti Malunga in a telephone interview yesterday said though a daunting task, the party is eager to set the pace by holding the polls in one day as opposed to having them in phases as some parties have traditionally done.
He said: “We are set to hold the primary polls using the traditional format of voting but the only change is that our candidates will not be blindfolded. This way, all candidates will follow events thus avoiding scenarios where some feel cheated.”
Malunga said as of yesterday, everything was in place for the nationwide polls.
“There will be officials from the party’s national executive, regional, district and constituency committees who will preside over the polls. Not everyone is contesting but also there is a big number of volunteers who have already been oriented on the process,” he said.
The UTM director of publicity said the party wants to ensure transparency in the process, having noted many protests on results in primary elections held by other parties in the country.
According to Malunga, the budget for the exercise, whose figure he did not disclose, has been cushioned by volunteers who have provided transport and other materials to help smoothen the process.
Yesterday afternoon, UTM senior officials were still locked in meetings in Limbe, Blantyre to finalise the list of contestants and allocate presiding officers.
When we visited the place, it was a beehive of activity with some contestants and other officials making final touches to the preparations.
Some notable faces at the preparatory meeting included Kaliati, deputy national organising secretary Allan Ngumuya and director of elections Paul Chibingu.
Chibingu said in an interview the elections would start at 9am in all constituencies.
He said: “It is a mammoth task to conduct primaries in this manner but we are determined to make this work. We will have one voting centre for each constituency but in some constituencies in the rural areas we have planned to hold the elections at ward level to shorten travelling distance for electoral college members.”
UTM, whose leader is Vice-President Saulos Chilima, held its convention in December 2018 where it announced that the party would embark on a process of identifying candidates both for parliamentary and local government seats.
But Mustafa Hussein, a political science lecturer based at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, said the party needs to put modalities in place to ensure credibility of the polls in the light of challenges associated with primary polls on the local scene.
“In my view, there are no big changes in the administration of the elections by UTM. To me, the removal of the blindfold is too insignificant, but I believe that the method followed is cheaper and more convenient, based on circumstances.
“However, challenges remain in counting as sometimes it becomes chaotic with some people moving between queues when counting is in progress. It also becomes a problem when people decide to follow a longer queue for fear of being on the losing side,” he said.
With the tripartite elections in less than five months, UTM is following in the footsteps of other parties such as the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who have already conducted their primary polls.