As the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) gears to resume the constituency redemarcation exercise, governance experts have said the country should put a cap on the number of constituencies.
A similar exercise last took place in 1999 when 16 more constituencies were created—from 177 to the current 193.
MEC was allocated K500 million out of the K1.3 billion it requested for in the 2020/21 National Budget and the electoral body asked for additional funding.
MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika said they have completed the paperwork regarding the exercise.
“We have the budget, we have the roadmap and this activity started before the fresh [presidential] election. We had to suspend it because we needed to conduct the elecion first. …All we are waiting for is money,” he said.
Alfandika also said MEC expects Parliament to approve funding for the work in the next budget, as the exercise is crucial to the country’s democracy.
He said representation is not balanced and needs to be addressed.
But, in an interview on Wednesday, Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) executive director Kizito Tenthani pointed out that while the exercise will enhance representation and the ability of members of Parliament (MPs) to effectively serve their constituents, it is time the country checked gerrymandering—where constituencies are manipulated for political expediency.
He said: “While it is important to redemarcate constituencies and wards, we should put a cap on the number of constituencies we can have as a country. We can agree, for instance, that the number of constituencies shall not exceed a certain number.”
The CMD chief observed that when the framers of the Constitution came up with the initial number of seats, they knew that there are dynamics that are not constant and can affect a constituency.
On her part, political scientist Nandin Patel described demarcation as a highly technical process, saying only competent people such as statisticians and cartographers should form part of the team.
She said fairness is a fundamental principle of elections and the current status where constituencies are not equally represented defeats the purpose.
There are concerns that creation of more constituencies will bloat the wage bill for Parliament and overburden the taxpayer. The annual wage bill for MPs rose from K15.4 billion last year to K20.7 billion after the lawmakers gave themselves huge allowance and salary hikes.
Centre for Research and Consultancy director Milward Tobias, in a telephone interview, said he believes that the 193 MPs are too many for a small economy like Malawi and an increase in the number of MPs would overburden the tax payer.
Section 77 (2) (a)of the country’s Constitution states that duties and functions of the electoral commission shall include “to determine constituency boundaries impartially on the basis of ensuring that constituencies contain approximately equal numbers of voters eligible to register, subject only to consideration of population density, ease of communication and geographical features and existing administrative areas.”