Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah has called for the enforcement of the Political Parties (Registration and Regulation) Act (2018) to deal with inactive political parties.
In her speech during the official announcement of the Matenje Ward local government by-election results in Blantyre on Wednesday, she said it was worrisome that only three parties participated when the country has over 50 registered.
MEC declared Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate Descent Msatero Chipangula winner of the ward in Kasungu with 1 489 votes against Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Nelson Maseko who came second with 1 203 votes.
Said Ansah: “This is the first by-election conducted after the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections. There are over 50 registered political parties and only three political parties participated. It is the hope of the commission that the Political Parties Act will be in full force and regulate idle parties.”
The MEC chairperson said political parties exist to contest in elections; get into positions and influence policies.
“If political parties are not contesting even in by-elections, which elections are they going to contest? We echo the calls for full enforcement of the Political Parties (Registration and Regulation) Bill to address issues like this one,” she said.
Ansah’s concern comes barely two weeks after Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) warned political parties that have not yet met the legislative requirements in the new Political Parties Act that they will be deregistered by December.
Section 16 (1) (e) of the new Political Party’s Act stipulates that the registrar [of political parties] shall deregister a political party, on his own motion or upon application by a member of a political party if the registrar is satisfied that the party has ceased to exist.
Reacting to Ansah’s remarks, Ministry of Justice and Constitution Affairs spokesperson Pirirani Masanjala said it will be difficult to start applying some of the laws now as the Act only came into force just last December.
He said: “The Act itself speaks of general election. I don’t think it says political parties should be deregistered anyhow. Deregistration process will happen if somebody makes an application that the party should be deregistered.
“If somebody does something wrong, the registrar of political parties is not necessarily an investigator. There has to be somebody to bring those issues to the attention of the registrar of political parties as the Act, under Section 16, states.”
On his part, CMD executive director Kizito Tenthani said the lacklustre political party participation in the by-election has been a trend from previous elections.
He said political parties are expected to give the public alternative policy options, upon which, the voter is expected to base their choice.
Said Tenthani: “If political parties are not taking part in elections, they invariably deny the voter an opportunity to compare different policy options.
“I believe that with the provisions in the Act, the Political Parties register will be cleaned up and only those parties that are still in existence and are active will remain. As of now, the figure that we have, over 50 registered political parties may be misleading.”
Asked why they did not participate in Matenje Ward by-election, People’s Party (PP) publicity secretary Ackson Kalaile said his party decided not to field a candidate because Kasungu is a stronghold of MCP, which they were in a working relationship with.
His United Democratic Front (UDF) counterpart Ken Ndanga said they were busy with other important activities aimed at rebuilding the party.
Commenting on the matter, a Lilongwe-based political scientist Peter Chisi said low participation in election is a clear indication that not all political parties are relevant.
He said there is need to put in place mechanisms to ensure irrelevant political parties are deregistered.
Political and social commentator Rafiq Hajat said in a separate interview many political parties failed to take part in the by-election because they depleted all their resources in the May 21 Tripartite Elections.
He, however, cited that the registrar of political parties has the authority to strike off any party that is not complying with the law. He said failing to implement means that the country is failing in the execution of the law.