Handouts have resurfaced among some politicians canvassing for votes in the May 30 parliamentary and local government elections
despite the Political Parties Act of 2018 outlawing the practice.
The development has prompted Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) to ask the Malawi Electoral Commission ( MEC ) to ensure enforcement of the law to level the playing field. HRDC’s call comes barely a week after some clergy members in Karonga also queried the electoral body on the same.
But MEC, on both occasions, has said enforcement of the Political Parties Act of 2018 is the domain of the registrar of political parties.
In a statement issued yesterday, HRDC chairperson Gift Trapence and national coordinator Luke Tembo said they were compelled to ask MEC to
enforce the law following reports that some candidates and political parties are issuing handouts to woo voters. enforce the law following reports
Reads the statement in part: “Our demand to MEC, therefore, is to apply the law as they are mandated by bringing the culprits to book and, above all, making sure that these by-elections are conducted in a manner that respects and upholds the law.”
HRDC further expresses concern that despite the existence of the law, it was not being followed, thereby distorting the terrain and affecting election administration.
While condemning candidates and their respective political parties for flouting Covid-19
restrictions during their campaign trails, HRDC states that when the Political Parties Act was formulated, there was a valid reason; hence, the law must be followed.
Section 41 (1) of the Political Parties Act provides that a candidate, political party or body or any person contesting or intending to contest in an election under this Act, shall not at any time issue a handout.
The Act further states that a person contravening the law will be liable to a fine of K10 000 and a five-year jail term.
But MEC director of media
and public relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa said it is the mandate of the registrar of political parties to enforce such a law.
He said: “That aside, you will recall that oftentimes, MEC has really come out to condemn this. Even now, we detest this malpractice during the electoral period.”
But in its statement, HRDC insisted that the electoral body has jurisdiction over electoral matters; hence, should take appropriate action alongside the police to bring culprits to book and put a stop to the malpractice.
In an interview with The Nation on Tuesday this week, registrar of political parties Chikumbutso Namelo said politicians are taking
advantage of the fact that the law is yet to be gazetted.
“We will soon write the Minister of Justice to engage political parties represented in Parliament on that law before gazetting it. Again, we will look for resources to sensitise the electorates through civic education,” he said.
MEC commissioner Anthony Mukumbwa is also on record as having said the electoral body does not have any legal mandate over handouts that candidates offer to voters.
Efforts to speak to Centre for Multiparty Democracy executive director Kizito Tenthani, whose institution sponsored enactment of the Act, proved futile as he could not be reached on numerous occasions.
But he is on record as having warned political parties and candidates against giving handouts to potential voters, saying the law will catch up with them.
During an earlier meeting with the Ministry of Justice, Tenthani said there were some gaps noted in the Act that needed to be addressed.
MEC will hold parliamentary by-elections in Karonga North West, Ntchisi North West, Lilongwe Msinja South and Zomba Changalume constituencies as well as local government by-elections in Liviridzi Ward in Balaka West Constituency and Chitakale Ward in Mulanje South Constituency.
MEC will on the same day also hold fresh elections in Nsanje North, Nsanje Central and Chikwawa East following nullification of the May 21 2019 Parliamentary Elections in the respective areas over irregularities.
Besides the handouts, political parties and candidates are also defying public health guidelines, including the restriction on public gathering to 50 people, to curb the further spread of Covid-19. There is no observance of physical distancing, wearing of face masks or use of hand-washing facilities at most of the crowded political rallies.
In an earlier interview on politicians disregarding Covid-19 protocols, Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda, who is also co-chairperson of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, said they expected the police to manage the situation by bringing culprits to book.
“ I f a n y t h i n g , w e politicians have lost so much to the same Covid-19. This pandemic doesn’t look at what you do or your status, so nobody is exempted. We expect the police to handle the situation in the same manner,” she said.