Tuesday’s by-elections have exposed severe voter apathy with registered voters apparently snubbing the polls in virtually all the five polling areas.
The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) conducted the by-elections on Tuesday for a parliamentarian in Mchinji West Constituency and ward councillors in Bunda (Kasungu), Kaliyeka (Lilongwe), Bembeke (Dedza) and Sadzi in Zomba.
However, low turnout of voters characterised the polls with a measly fraction of registered voters availing themselves to cast their ballots.
Out of the 133 345 people who registered to vote in all the five centres, only 25 150 turned up for polling, representing about 18.80 percent voter turnout.
The outlook was particularly worse in Bembeke Ward in Dedza where apathy was prominent as electoral clerks just recorded 4 768 people who turned up to vote for the eight candidates out of the 50 961 registered voters. This represented a 9.3 percent voter attendance.
The other pathetic outcome emerged in Kaliyeka Ward where out of a total of 11 649 registered voters, only 1 465 showed up for polling, representing a 12.58 percent voter turnout.
Only Bunda Ward saw a significant number of voter turnout of 39.8 percent when 1 218 out of 3 060 registered voters trickled in to the centres to vote.
The results evidently showed that the huge numbers of voters that registered to cast their ballots seemed unmindful of the poll that was held following the deaths of the previous occupants except in Bembeke where the former councillor lost his seat after being convicted of theft.
MEC chairperson Jane Ansah expressed dissatisfaction with the low voter turnout, describing it as a concern to the commission.
“It was stated last time that there was need for a thorough research to look into the structural causes and we still push for this.
“We need to go to the electorate and hear what makes them not to show up in good numbers for polling as they do during campaign rallies despite all the efforts the commission and other stakeholders put in place to mobilise them,” she complained.
The chairperson also observed that the number of political parties contesting in by-elections is dwindling.
The country has over 50 registered political parties, but only five contested in the by-elections.
The same happened during the October 8 2014 by-elections where only five participated while during the August 25 2015 polls seven parties contested. The worst was during the December 22 2015 polls where only three parties took part.
Reacting to the outcome, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College political scientist Boniface Dulani said in an interview while turnout in by-elections has always been low, the recent one has been worse.
“I think this is just an endorsement of the frustration that people have with politicians that perhaps they are just serving their interests and it does not make sense for them to go out and vote,” he observed.
On his part, chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) Steve Duwa said the pathetic low turnout against the registered numbers was an expression of concern that the elections to them are valueless.
“We don’t seem to find an answer as to why the voters continue shunning the by-elections. Perhaps we need to conduct a study on this. But one clear factor that comes out of this observation is that voters’ expectations from the elected people have not been fulfilled.
“This is an expression of great concern in the manner elected office-bearers are fulfilling their promises. If you look at the service delivery in the country it’s definitely not there which means people are basically saying they see no value in continuing to participate in elections,” said Duwa.
The main opposition party also managed to retain its Bembeke Ward and grabbed from the DPP the Kaliyeka Ward.
The ruling party retained its Sadzi Ward in Zomba and Bunda in Kasungu. n