Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has raised concern over the dwindling number of political parties contesting in by-elections despite the country having over 50 registered parties, in the December 22 vote only three parties took part.
MEC chairperson Maxon Mbendera expressed the sentiments on Wednesday in Blantyre when the commission announced official results of the by-elections in one constituency and two wards.
In the race for Zomba Chisi Constituency seat, Mark Michael Botomani of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) emerged the winner whereas Master Rodgers Chazama of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) won in Ngala Ward in Lilongwe Msozi North Constituency and Auleriano Kalemba of MCP is the new councillor for Mtope Ward in Mchinji West Constituency.
The vacancy in Zomba Chisi arose following the death of Peter Chizalo Mangulenje (DPP) on September 23 2015. In Mtope Ward, the gap was created by the death of John Msumatiza (MCP) on July 26 2015 and in Ngala Ward, the vacancy came about because the then councillor, Misheck Khomba (MCP), resigned on personal grounds on September 8 2015, according to MEC.
In his announcement, Mbendera, who is also a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, said during the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections only 19 political parties’ participated while during the October 8 2014 by-elections five political parties participated and in the August 25 2015 by-elections, seven political parties took part.
“Now the number of parties contesting is at three. This is raising questions that; if a party cannot contest in national elections, cannot take part in by-elections, what elections will they participate in?
“Do we still need their existence in the political parties register or we should find a formula of deregistering such parties so that we remain with the active ones? There is a debate around this and I hope the scenario here will also contribute to the conclusion of the said discussion,” said Mbendera.
He also said MEC has noted reduced competition in Local Government by-elections as in August by-elections that took place in five wards had six candidates each in four of the wards while the other ward had five, but this time around both wards had only two candidates each.
Another point of concern, Mbendera said, is the silence of women empowerment advocates during the by-elections.
However, commenting on the retaining of seats by DPP and MCP in the three areas, Happy Kayuni, an associate professor and head of Political and Administrative Studies Department at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, said the political terrain in the country has not changed much from the voting trends of last year.
He said: “DPP has not successfully gained place in the Central Region and MCP has remained a Central Region based party, it has not managed to penetrate the Southern Region.”
On the declining participation of political parties, Kayuni said it reflects the value the parties attach to an area. In Tuesday’s by-elections, he said, the parties were aware that Zomba Chisi is a DPP stronghold and Ngala as well as Mtope were for MCP.
Kayuni also said Malawians do not look at councillors as critical to the politics of the country and political parties.
NGO Gender Coordinating Network (NGO –GCN) chairperson Emma Kaliya, speaking in a telephone interview on concerns of lack of a voice from women’s rights activists, said MEC has a point.
She said when MEC announced the by-elections, one media house called and asked her how the network was going to support women and she spelled out the organisation’s position that it did not have resources. n