As campaign gathers momentum ahead of the October 17 by elections, accusations and counter-accusations have surfaced with some chiefs in NsanjeLalanje claiming they are being intimidated by government and ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) senior officials.
Some electorates are also alleging that certain traditional leaders are instructing their subjects to vote for a ‘government candidate’.
But in separate interviews, both chiefs and the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) have said they have not received official complaints on the matter.
The revelation came to light on Friday during a political debate for the parliamentary aspirants organised by the National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust at Bangula Primary School ground in the district.
During the debate, some participants revealed that there were certain chiefs who were instructing their subjects to vote for a DPP candidate.
In an interview on the sidelines of the debate, some chiefs confirmed doing so, allegedly under instructions from some an unnamed DDP officials.
“We are being ordered not to welcome opposition candidates if they come to our jurisdictions and that if we host them they would dethrone us,” said one group village head (GVH) who asked for protection for fear of repercussions.
But GVH Anyalandiwo, who represented Traditional Authority (T/A) Mbenje at the event said the office of the T/A had not been notified about the threats, but said he could not defend the chiefs.
“During elections a lot of issues emerge and I cannot defend all the chiefs because some of them are greedy and attach themselves to certain aspirants. But thus far, there has been no official complaint on the issues.
“But let me also add that if they are being threatened by government officials they should not be nervous because there are appropriate procedures for one’s chieftaincy to be deposed and it is not an easy undertaking,” he said.
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah, who was present at the event, said the commission has also not received any complaint regarding the issue.
“We want people to vote freely and choose a person of their own choice. Chiefs should not take sides but allow all candidates to campaign freely. As regards the issue, we deal with complaints when they have been lodged but that complaint has not reached us,” she said.
DPP publicity secretary Francis Kasaila was not readily available for comment, but government spokesperson, who is also minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi described the allegations as incorrect and misleading.
“Those reports are unfortunate and incorrect. The truth is that every person is free to campaign and choose whoever they want. That is the democracy Malawi embraced, and we are encouraging it,” said Dausi.
But Nice Trust has since condemned the reports, saying the development was not in tandem with democratic principles and values.
“In a democratic society, people are free to participate in the electoral process peacefully, without any fear and intimidation until they vote for a candidate of their choice.
“We urge traditional leaders who are doing that to stop as that violates the right of people to choose a candidate of their choice. We also ask the electorate to report such cases to relevant authorities, even informing Nice, as it is a recipe for violence,” said Kondwani Malunga, Nice Trust civic education officer for Nsanje.
The Nsanje-Lalanje by-election has three contestants Gladys Ganda of DPP, Lawrence Sitolo for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Winnie Wakudyanaye standing on an independent ticket.
The constituency fell vacant following the death of the then member of Parliament (MP) Sam Ganda on May 16 2017. During the debate, which Ganda snubbed, Sitolo and Wakudyanaye were given an opportunity to sell themselves to the electorate by outlining their manifestos.