Polling in yesterday’s parliamentary and local government by-elections largely proceeded peacefully amid fears of low voter turnout.
In its status report of the by-elections in Karonga Central Constituency, Lilongwe North West Constituency and Makhuwira South Ward in Chikwawa, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) said all polling stations in the three areas opened on time with long queues of voters ready to cast their votes.
However, the MEC statement signed by chief elections officer Sam Alfandika said in some polling centres in Lilongwe North West Constituency, some names of registered voters were missing.
There were no elements of violence at the 38 centres in the constituency where 56 576 registered voters were expected to cast their votes. Spot checks, however, showed that there was low voter turnout with some election officials attributing it to high temperatures during day.
Public Affairs Committee (PAC) election observer Peter Katemba Chikwa lamented that almost all the 38 centres in Lilongwe North West faced a low turnout of voters.
He said: “We have gone around most of the centres. We have found that most of them did not have good turn out as they normally have during the presidential election. Many people were only anxious to vote for the President and they have not been civic educated on the relevance of having an MP.”
Six candidates, namely Goodwell Ndiwo Banda (independent), Blessings Bokola (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP), Mphatso Jones Boti (Malawi Congress Party-MCP), Chimwemwe Kameta (independent), Bryson Majoni (independent) and Christopher Njerengo (Mbakuwaku Movement for Development-MMD) contested in the race to replace President Lazarus Chakwera who resigned to contest the presidency.
UTM Party of Vice-President Saulos Chilima, which fielded a candidate in Karonga Central against an MCP opponent, did not have a candidate in Lilongwe North West. The party’s officials were not available to explain the scenario.
In Karonga Central, where MCP and UTM Party—key partners in the nine-political party governing Tonse Alliance—fiercely fought and left 12 injured during the campaign, polling also proceeded peacefully yesterday.
However, there were pockets of incidents that were quickly dealt with by the police. For example, at Mlare some people were preventing others from voting..
Braving the scorching sun, both the old and the young came out in large numbers to vote for a replacement of their legislator Cornelius Mwalwanda who died on July 16 2020 reportedly of coronavirus.
The race pitted the deceased legislator’s nephew Leonard Mwalwanda on an MCP ticket, former parliamentarian Frank Mwenifumbo of UTM Party, Ernest Mwalughali for DPP, Nellie Sichali of MMD and independent Shackie Mary-Florence Nthakomwa. There were 16 180 registered voters.
As voting closed, our visits to places such as Mlare, Lupembe, Chiwondo, Lughali and Mwenelondo established that many young men had gathered in groups, awaiting results announcement.
In an interview after voting had closed, National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust regional civic education officer (North) Vincent Kalaba said voting generally was peaceful.
He said: “The only incidents I know of are that of Mlare, where we hear there was a fracas on Monday evening and that continued in the morning on polling day, but it was resolved.”
Karonga Police Station spokesperson Enock Livason confirmed the Mlare incident and said police were deployed to quell the situation.
Makhuwira South Ward in Chikwawa had 20 779 registered voters and polling also proceeded peacefully, according to MEC.
Initially, the by-elections were supposed to be conducted in five constituencies and one ward, but MEC deferred the process in Mangochi West, Mangochi North East and Phalombe North constituencies whose vacancies followed court nullification of the May 21 2019 parliamentary elections.
MEC’s decision followed a High Court ruling in a case in which candidates Martin Chikati Sekati Nyengo and Simeon Harrison sued the electoral body on procedure. Kachale said only candidates who contested in the annulled elections would be eligible; hence, the delay as some parties had changed candidates.