The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has said a free and open Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) is crucial in ensuring a level playing field as the country prepares for tripartite elections next year.
MEC chairperson Maxon Mbendera, who is also a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, said this in an interview on Friday when commenting on the outcry over the monopoly by political parties in government on the use of public resources, including the public broadcaster, during election campaigns.
He said: “We are hopeful that we can have a time when the radio can tell what is happening in the country and not only what the President and ministers are doing. However, this requires the efforts of all Malawians and an understanding that we need to free MBC for the good of the nation.
“This thing has been going on back to the MCP [Malawi Congress Party], then the UDF [United Democratic Front], the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] and now came the PP [People’s Party] we are seeing no change. This is our radio and this must be dealt with now.”
Mbendera said he was glad that some moves are being made to “correct the anomaly” over the use of the public radio station and other public resources for campaign purposes.
“Those issues are being taken on board and I am told the November meeting of Parliament will tackle the issues,” said Mbendera.
He said it is only during the official campaign period that the commission has powers to deal with such abuse of public resources and MBC.
Recently, former vice-president Justin Malewezi urged MEC to swiftly put up mechanisms that would prevent politicians from using public resources during the 2014 election campaign, arguing that this would be the only way that would guarantee free and fair elections.
Besides use of public resources, Section 193 also bars government and political parties from using civil servants for the purposes of promoting any political party or individual or have such a civil servant deploy resources for political campaign.
In an interview, political commentator Rafiq Hajat, who is the executive director of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI), said although the country can put in place good regulations on the use of public resources, the key challenge remains enforcement.
He said the current status of MEC makes it difficult for it to question the conduct of a sitting president.
Speaking during the launch of an Interfaith Elections Project in the capital, Lilongwe on Thursday, Malawi Council of Churches (MCM) secretary general the Reverend Osborne Jodder-Mbewe also expressed concerns over the issue saying that is one area that the faith group project will look at in the run-up to next-year’s elections.