While the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is ready for by-elections in the seven constituencies and two wards, UTM and People’s Party (PP), which are MCP partners in the Tonse Alliance administration say they are still mourning their dead and have no road maps for campaign.
There are seven vacant seats in Parliament—three came about after the High Court nullified results of the 2019 elections in Nsanje North, Nsanje Central and Chikwawa East; and four—Lilongwe Msinja South, Zomba Changalume, Ntchisi North and Karonga North West—after serving legislators succumbed to Covid-19 in the past four weeks.
MEC will also hold by-elections in two wards—Liviridzi Ward in Balaka West and Chitakale Ward in Mulanje South.
For the three court-sanctioned elections, the High Court, as per the country’s electoral laws, ordered that the by-elections be held within 60 days from the day the seats became vacant.
With about 50 days to the deadline, MCP director of campaign Moses Kunkuyu said, in an interview this week, the party appreciates the devastation and discomfort that Covid-19 has caused, as such it will champion a “safe citizens’ agenda” campaign.
“He said in every election, the party aims at fielding its most popular or best candidates after conducting primary elections with a sample of the people in party positions in the area concerned.
“In approaching the coming by-elections, the party’s procedure will be followed. We shall conduct primary elections where vacancies have been created by natural attrition, such as death.
“We shall hold on to 2019 candidates where vacancies have come due to nullification of results by the court. But the party’s NEC [National Executive Committee] will communicate should there be a contrary arrangement,” said Kunkuyu.
On Monday this week, the party held a preparatory meeting ahead of the polls, drawing together stakeholders from NEC, regional, district and constituency committees where elections will be held.
Kunkuyu said they believe planning was key; hence, the meeting to strategise how they would approach their campaign in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in observance to the preventive measures currently in place.
“Campaign for these by-elections will be different from the previous ones, but we will adhere to the preventive measures because, as a party, we have seen the toll Covid 19 has taken on us and the world so we do not want to risk people’s lives,” he said.
But UTM and PP, who are among the key partners of the Tonse Alliance administration, said it was premature for them to talk about their road map because they were still mourning the loss of their departed members of Parliament (MPs).
Said UTM spokesperson Frank Mwenifumbo: “We want to observe the mourning period first with the families of the deceased and members of different political parties that have lost their MPs.
“Once that period has expired we will convene a meeting of NEC to discuss how we are going to approach these by-elections.”
His counterpart in PP Ackson Kalaile Banda also said his party was still mourning after losing three senior members, but its NEC would meet later to map the way forward.
On the other hand, spokesperson for the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Brown Mpinganjira while confirming his party has also not formulated any strategy ahead of the by-elections, felt there is a “disaster in the making”.
“Practically, it is not possible for people not to congregate… The party is yet to come up with a road map but, personally, I feel this is a mistake because there is a contradiction. Government tells us not to congregate but at the same time by ordering fresh elections, the court is telling us to go and congregate,” said Mpinganjira.
The UDF, which during the May 2019 Tripartite Elections and the June 2020 Fresh Presidential Election partnered with the DPP, does not know either when it will meet to discuss the way forward.
UDF director of elections Clement Stambuli said they were yet to meet to plan how they are going to approach these polls, “especially on where we will field our candidates and how we will conduct our campaign.”
But University of Malawi political scientist Ernest Thindwa said it was not surprising that apart from MCP, the rest of the political parties are yet to hit the ground.
He observed that generally the ruling party tends to be more active than other parties or the opposition parties between elections primarily because of the incumbency advantage.
“The advantage of the ruling party is enhanced owing to its relative ease of access to various types of public resources. Suffice to say given our largely clientelistic politics other parties struggle to identify candidates let alone supporters for by-elections due to limited patronage resources at their disposal particularly if the constituencies concerned are not their strongholds,” said Thindwa.
He however hinted that other political parties such as DPP were likely to activate their structures in the constituencies concerned as time gets closer to the by-elections.