We only have about two months before the May tripartite elections. It is worth analysing whether we have made strides to ensure free and fair elections. This piece intends to point at a few areas which, if not adequately and timely addressed, have the potential of denting the electoral outcomes.
Elections in Malawi are placed under Chapter VII of our Constitution (1994). The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is mandated to oversee the entire electoral process under the chairmanship of a judge. The mind behind this was to ensure independence, impartiality and fairness in its operations. To this end, MEC must not just be independent, but must be seen to be independent by all stakeholders.
During the voter registration exercise, a number of complaints were raised by several stakeholders whose explanations by the commission did not really hit home. Issues of faulty cameras and inadequate printing rolls were rampant. It is on record that in Phalombe and other areas, people were being turned back as a result of faulty equipment. Sometimes, they were made to wait long hours as their photographs were taken to a nearby registration centre for processing. This put pressure on the assisting centres since they too had their own load to take care of. In this way, a few people in the affected constituencies managed to register due to frustrations. This affected their constitutional right to take part in the political activities of their country, as guaranteed by Section 40(1) of the Malawi Constitution. Interestingly, such problems were mostly rampant in areas with higher populations.
Having concluded the registration process, the number of voters stands at 7 537 548 (over 7.5 million), according to MEC. Under MEC’s Electoral Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates, a number of issues have been highlighted but pertinent to the current discussion is Appendix 1 on page 11 where electoral offences have been listed down. Of particular importance is Section 1 (h) and ( i ) where (h) addresses that it is an offence to induce the sale or surrender of a registration certificate and (i) alludes to the fact that the sale, surrender or buying of a registration certificate is also an offence.
Looking at Section 76 (2) (e) of our Constitution (1994), MEC is empowered to determine electoral petitions and complaints related to the conduct elections. On this note, it must be borne in mind that such determinations need be considered within a reasonable time of being lodged in order for such determinations to remain relevant. Failure to decide in time renders such decisions immaterial. Many complaints have been lodged to the commission regarding the offences stipulated above.
For instance, some people in Chikhwawa were caught red-handed buying voter registration cards and this was highlighted nationwide but a decision is yet to be made by MEC on the fate of the culprits. One aspiring candidate in the Northern Region was recently caught up in the web of soliciting voter cards in his constituency and had a laughable explanation as to why he was soliciting such personal items from the voters. Again, MEC decided to act passively. It may be an open secret that people in Blantyre City South Constituency were duped to surrender their voter cards to some individuals in order to be eligible to receive “free” maize. This issue is yet to be acted upon by MEC despite that it has in its possession some voter cards taken dubiously from the voters.
Accountability demands MEC to communicate its decisions on matters of national importance to all stakeholders in good time in order to be seen to be independent and impartial at all times. As stakeholders, the wait is on. And while we are still awaiting tangible determinations on the issues raised and realising the time factor on our hands, it is important that we should be made aware when the voter verification exercise shall begin so that we adjust our schedules in readiness for this very important exercise.
It cannot be denied that such an exercise shall roll out during the official campaign period, hence the need for proper time management. As a nation, we would be grateful if the final figure of projected voters is made public before the actual voting so that we know the number of flushed out or ineligible voters for purposes of accountability.
Having gone this far, it is incumbent upon MEC to adequately address the issues raised so that a free and fair election is realised and this systematic retrogression done away with. God Bless Malawi.
The author likes to comment on social issues.