Except in Nsanje Lalanje Constituency where a high turnout was registered, voter apathy reared its ugly head again yesterday in three local government and two other parliamentary by-elections in Central and Southern regions.
In Mtsiriza Ward in Lilongwe City West Constituency, many voters shunned the poll as out of 11 621 registered voters, slightly over 2 000 turned up.
Three contestants namely Brighton Golombe Edward of United Democratic Front (UDF), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Julio Benedicto Jumbe and Kinwel Frank Zikaola of opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) battled for the seat.
During voting, there were no visible long queues as people trekked in slowly during the day, especially women and young voters.
Roseby Makina, presiding officer for one of the two poling centres at Mtsiriza Primary School where 7 622 people were expected to cast their vote, said in an interview that it was disappointing that most people stayed away.
She said: “Turnout hasn’t been satisfactory. It was very low because out of 7 600 registered voters, we haven’t even reached a quarter of that figure.”
Some of the electoral hitches encountered during the exercise, according to the presiding officer, included missing of names on the voters’ roll which had to be verified in the numerical registry and voters wishing to vote at centres where they did not register and had to be guided accordingly.
The situation was the same at Muonera Centre where 3 998 voters registered and a visit to the centre around noon found party monitors and Malawi Electoral Commission(MEC) staff sitting idle as there was little to do at the time.
There was also a feeling of discontent among some of the people interviewed around the area as they claimed that voting only benefits the chosen candidate and not the community being represented at local or national level.
One of the voters, Miriam Mwapasa, 39, said she registered only to acquire the voter identity card so that she could be identified easily and access loans and other benefits.
She said: “Our lives as people residing in Mtsiriza have not improved an inch since we started voting in 1994. So what is the importance of voting? Just to put someone into an influential position and he benefits? We still don’t have access to potable water and decent housing. We will always be taken for a ride by these politicians.”
Presiding officer at Makata Primary School in Ndirande-Malabada Ward in Blantyre, Frank Mukhalipi, attributed low turnout to lack of interest.
The centre opened at 6am with a huge turnout, but around 10am, the numbers of voters declined.
However, the case was different at Ndirande Hill Polling Centre where the turnout was low.
According to presiding officer for the centre Chancy Nanseta, when the centre opened in the morning, they registered about 70 voters. Thereafter, the number of voters started declining.
When The Nation visited the centre around 9am, there was a sizeable crowd, with political party monitors of the four contesting political parties—United Democratic Front (UDF), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Peoples Party (PP) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP)—seen interacting with each other.
Despite the heated tension in the run-up to the by-elections, in Lilongwe City South East Constituency the turn-up in most polling stations was below 30 percent, according to unofficial results.
We visited several polling stations in the morning where presiding officers expressed optimism that things would improve in the latter half of the day.
However, as the closing time approached, it was evident that the majority of voters had ignored the polls.
The hustle that is often synonymous with general elections was not there yesterday in Lilongwe City South East Constituency.
In the 11 of the 17 polling centres which we regularly visited, no single queue was created. Even Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) officials at the polling stations mostly spent their time chatting as up to half an hour would elapse without a stream attending to a single voter.
MEC commissioner Jane Nkosi said the ‘stray’ voters did not cause any problem as they were sufficiently helped and subsequently left the polling stations.
However, thousands of eligible voters showed up to cast a ballot in contentious Nsanje Lalanje Constituency by-election despite some elements of disorder.
As early as 5.30am, voters started trickling in most polling centres of the constituency.
But despite voters coming in good time, in some centres such as Bangula Primary School, where the main tally centre was, voting was delayed by few minutes due to lack of order.
However, by 6.30am, all the 13 polling centres had opened.
About 25 958 people had registered in Nsanje Lalanje whose main challengers were Lawrence Sitolo of MCP and Gladys Ganda of DPP.
The third contestant, Winnie Wakudyanaye, was standing on an independent ticket.
However, as official voting period closed at 6pm some voters in some centres were still in the queue waiting to cast their ballot.
For instance, at Bangula School Polling Centre which had 3 738 registered voters- the biggest number- as of 6.40pm more than 100 people had not yet voted.
Similarly, at Phokera Primary School polling centre—which was the second biggest with 2 992 registered voters—one stream had over 50 people waiting to cast their vote.
According to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa, voting largely went on peacefully despite a few challenges.
The by-elections were held in Lilongwe Msozi North Constituency, Mayani North Ward in Dedza, Lilongwe City South East Constituency, Mtsiliza Ward in Lilongwe, Ndirande Makata Ward and Nsanje Lalanje Constituency in Nsanje District. n