Six political parties have written the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), asking it to extend the deadline for submitting nomination papers, involve soldiers in manning polling centres and to allow illiterate voters to choose who to help them vote.
A legal commentator has, however, questioned the motive behind some of the parties’ concerns, saying they could create more problems than solving them.
MEC on Thursday acknowledged receiving the letter and said that it is looking into the concerns expressed by the Alliance for Democracy (Aford), the Congress for National Unity (Conu), the Malawi Forum for Unity and Development (Mafunde), the National Unity Party (NUP), New Labour Party (NLP) and People’s Progressive Movement (PPM).
The parties say the mid-February deadline for the submission of nomination papers is not convenient to them, noting that during the previous election, the deadline was in March.
“As of now, many political parties have not completed their primary elections and prospective candidates remain undecided because of high nomination fees. The timing is creating panic on the part of candidates and is currently working to the advantage of the ruling party,” reads in part a letter dated January 9 2014 and signed by parties’ representatives.
The parties also feel that the teachers who are involved in the electoral process can be easily manipulated by the ruling party as they are civil servants. They also want involvement of the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) officers in manning polling centres, not the police.
The letter also says MEC should ensure that illiterate voters should be accompanied by a person of their choice into a polling booth to prevent electoral staff from taking advantage of their condition to vote for the staff’s candidates of choice.
“We are proposing that those that are illiterate should only vote if they are accompanied by someone of their choice and this should not be an option, but a general condition applying to this category of voters,” reads the letter.
Chancellor College law lecturer Associate Professor Edge Kanyongolo said on Sunday the electoral calendar is fixed and wondered why the parties are coming with their concerns now.
“All along they knew that elections will take place on 20th May, I wonder what [the six parties] have been doing all this time,” said Kanyongolo.
On the involvement of soldiers, the law lecturer said there is a clear separation of responsibilities between the police and MDF officers, stressing that MDF’s responsibility is not law enforcement.
Kanyongolo said MDF’s responsibility is defending the country’s territorial integrity.
“By demanding the inclusion of MDF, the parties may solve one problem, but create another one. If they do not trust the police, it’s a matter of discussion, but surely not involving MDF,” he said.
On the illiterate voters, Kanyongolo said the argument will be valid if MEC will not use pictures on candidates.
“There have been a number of reviews and I wonder why this was overlooked. But if MEC will use pictures of candidates, there will be no problem. Problems will come in when pictures will not be used,” he said.
MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said the commission will address the parties’ concerns soon.
“A response will be given at an appropriate time,” said Mwafulirwa.