Malawi’s Electoral Commission (EC) has proposed to double nomination fees for contestants in the 2014 tripartite elections, a move that is seen as prohibitive by an analyst and some political parties.
But except for the presidential candidacy, women aspiring to be members of Parliament (MPs) and councillors will pay 25 percent less than their male competitors under the new proposals, according to a well-placed source at the commission.
The preferential treatment for women is meant to help promote their participation in leadership positions, the source said.
Under the proposals, anyone wishing to contest for the presidency in the 2014 elections should be prepared to cough K1 million, up from K500 000 in the 2009 polls.
Nomination fees for male parliamentary candidates is proposed at K200 000, up from K100 000 whereas their women counterparts would need K150 000.
Males aspiring to be councillors are expected to cough K20 000 whereas females would pay K15 000.
Unlike in the past, this money may now be non-refundable if the commission’s recommendation to amend Section 45 of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act and Section 37 of the Local Government Elections Act to that effect is endorsed. During the 2009 general election, candidates who amassed at least five percent of the votes cast, got refunds.
Under the recommended amendment of the laws, the commission, which is mandated to decide nomination fees, says to avoid disadvantaging others by ambushing them with nomination amounts close to the day of submissions, it wants a provision to make known the nomination fees at least for a period of not less than six months before the first day of nomination.
The commission’s head of media and public relations, Sangwani Mwafulirwa, while neither confirming nor denying the proposals, said K1 million could not be regarded as exorbitant considering what is at stake in the presidential elections.
Said Mwafulirwa: “K1 million is not unreasonable to a serious candidate who wants to contest the presidency. Certainly, if one wants to vie for the highest office in the land, [he or she] will find K1 million modest enough. Remember that the commodity that is at stake is very expensive—power.”
He said the commission will consult political parties and other “appropriate stakeholders” so that the fees to be set should reflect the spirit of the consultations.
Mwafulirwa said the commission is expected to launch the elections in March 2013 when it will also present its position on many issues regarding the 2014 tripartite polls, including how much candidates would be paying as nomination fees.
Asked if the nomination fees were not defeating the democratic right to participate in the electoral process by contesting in an election, Mwafulirwa said the payment of fees is a global practice in all democracies.
He also said the K20 000 and K15 000 for male and female aspiring councillors respectively should be affordable for serious contestants although there was no remuneration for successful ones apart from the sitting allowance they get when the assembly is in session.
Mwafulirwa said the funds realised from the nomination fees would be used for the implementation of other activities within the calendar of events as the commission prepares for the May 2014 polls.
But political commentator Henry Chingaipe said on Monday this week that the proposed amounts could limit the opportunity of some interested citizens to participate in the electoral process by offering themselves to the public as candidates for political office.
“The fees are far too high and it is difficult at this point to appreciate the rationale for such a hike. In fact, the hike contradicts what was a common argument before and after the 2009 general election whereby stakeholders called for a significant reduction of the old nomination fees or a complete abolition of the fees,” said the political commentator.
Chingaipe said the amount could not necessarily ensure quality candidates, but that it would deny poor Malawians a shot at leadership as the hike would put the democratic right to participate in elections on the market.
“It is clear to me that what the hike will do is to close off the electoral candidature for poor people even if they could make good leaders or representatives. The hike amounts to putting the democratic right to participate in elections up for sale at a price that is way beyond the reach of many Malawians,” he said.
NGO Gender Coordinating Network chairperson Emma Kaliya said although she does not subscribe to the idea of giving things on a silver platter, the lowering of nomination fees for female candidates would make a difference in the women empowerment drive.
“If we want to be very practical, then most people, especially women, may struggle to get such money just to pay for being registered when they also have so much to attend to as they plan for their campaign that will require a lot of resources as well,” said Kaliya.
She, however, said people who are serious about participating in the electoral process would still find a way of paying the fees because policies cannot be bent to suit a certain group.
Kaliya said it would be better for the commission to inform Malawians on the reasons behind charging the fees for proper understanding and appreciation.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) director of elections Joseph Njobvuyalema said the commission was already told that the proposed amounts were prohibitive for a fragile economy such as Malawi’s.
Njobvuyalema said the electoral body should avoid being perceived as a commercial agency, but follow the Constitution which stipulates the conditions for one to qualify for elected office, especially the presidency.
Said Njobvuyalema: “The Constitution is very clear and it talks about a Malawi citizen aged 35 and above and there are no strings attached. You don’t need so much money to become the President. If this issue comes to Parliament to make it a policy, I, for one, will not support it.”
United Democratic Front (UDF) publicity secretary Ken Ndanga said it was surprising that the commission was considering to raise the fees when stakeholders noted that the previous EC erred by imposing a prohibitive amount of K100 000 as nomination fees for parliamentary candidates.
“These amounts make the elections as a commercial activity and discriminatory. This may deny the citizenry good leaders as they may be eliminated because of their economic status,” said Ndanga.
He also said the hike in nomination fees would further burden candidates who will still have to raise campaign money.
People’s Party (PP) deputy publicity secretary Ken Msonda declined to comment on the issue of proposed nomination fees, saying the party would come up with its position after being consulted by the commission.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) publicity secretary Nicholas Dausi said the party has not yet been consulted on the nomination fees, but it was worried that the commission was making some unrealistic decisions.
“Some of the decisions the commission is making are very unrealistic, dubious and questionable which leave us with more questions than answers. But this is our country. We will sit down and reason with them,” said Dausi.
Meanwhile, it has transpired that the biometric registration system which the commission wants to introduce, is still under review and would cost at least $2.7 million (about K1 billion), according to the EC’s projected costs of the system.
Mwafulirwa said the commission was still calculating the benefits of the biometric system, but that some of the priceless benefits were decreased stress, integrity of the voters’ roll, confidence in the electoral process and peace of mind.