The recently-gazetted public health guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 have put Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) in a tight corner on how to conduct by-elections in vacant constituencies.
Before the public health guidelines, which include banning of gatherings of over 10 people, came into effect, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 gave MEC a go-ahead to conduct elections in areas that have fallen vacant.
MEC has to hold by-election in Mangochi West, Mangochi North East, Phalombe North, Lilongwe North West and Karonga Central to ensure that people in those areas have members of Parliament (MPs) representing them in national development.
MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa in an interview on Tuesday said the electoral commission will have to engage relevant stakeholders on the way forward after which they will issue a statement
He, however, could not say when the consultations will take place.
Said Mwafulirwa: “We appreciate that the constituents need MPs to lead them, but there is a need to take all necessary precautions to avoid putting people’ lives at risk by breaching laws aimed at curbing the spread of the pandemic.”
Attorney General (AG) Chikosa Silungwe in a separate interview advised MEC and the Ministry of Health to see how best the elections can be managed, particularly on the issue of managing public gatherings in campaigns.
He said: “It is possible to have an election but there will have to be a conversation on how the by-elections will be conducted.”
Silungwe maintained that public gatherings have been defined as a grouping of not more than 10 people.
On his part, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson Maurice Munthali said the party will follow whatever MEC and government decide.
He said: “We implore MEC to consider the magnitude of the pandemic while at the same time look at how we can comply with the constitutional right of the people to choose somebody to represent them. MCP is ready to contest in the elections, should they be organised.”
United Democratic Front secretary general Kandi Pandambo also said his party is ready for the election, adding that parties, through the Centre for Multiparty Democracy, already left the decision in MEC’s hands during a consultation meeting last week.
However, he said just like in the June 23 presidential elections, measures can be put in place on how best the elections can be conducted.
Democrat Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Nicholas Dausi and DPP secretary general Greselder Jeffrey did not pick up their phones when called for their comments.
Meanwhile, Independent Political and Social Analysts Thinktank founder Ken Msonda, who is also a DPP member, said it will be hypocrisy for government to hold elections that will expose thousands of people to Covid-19, particularly when it is barring religious gatherings of more than 10 people.
He said government needs to review the limitation on religious gatherings, saying places of worship provide people with solace or answers during a crisis. He called on religious groups to seek court redress saying the current guidelines are a fight against churches.
Government limited all public gatherings to 10 people except for funerals, National Assembly deliberations, and meetings on Covid-19.
Elections bring thousands of people together, especially when politicians undertake campaigns.
Prior to the June 23 presidential election, government limited public gatherings to 100 people. But the campaigns saw thousands gathering during rallies and voters also went in large numbers to cast votes.