In its observation report on the pre-election period for the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) has highlighted an overall decline in civic and voter education (CVE) activities.
Mesn, which said it conducted the study from February 24 to March 10 this year, has since appealed to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to ensure that the activities are intensified to enable voters make informed choices on polling day.
Besides low voter and civic education, the Mesn study also established that use of public resources for political campaign-related activities was noticed in some districts, handouts were used in enticing voters while some traditional and religious leaders were abusing their influence to drum up support for their preferred candidates or political parties.
Political commentators have since described the findings as worrisome, appealing for more action on the same.
But in an interview yesterday, Mesn board chairperson Steve Duwa attributed the failure by civil society organisations (CSOs) to undertake voter and civic education activities to lack of funds.
He said the situation could lead to irrational and uninformed electoral choices by voters.
Said Duwa: “The essence of providing CVE is to accord voters an opportunity to make rational and informed electoral choices on 21st May 2019. This is dependent on the capacity of CSOs accredited by MEC to directly engage voters with CVE.
“Unfortunately, the absence of funding has crippled ability of CSOs to effectively deliver on CVE.”
Reacting to the findings, politician-cum-commentator Humphrey Mvula expressed disappointment, saying they raise a “red light” as voters only have campaign materials from political parties but are not enlightened on the process.
“Technically, that gives a worrisome scenario because MEC accredited so many stakeholders to provide CVE, but perhaps the challenge that may have been there is that there was no due diligence in assessing if those had the capacity,” he said.
On use of State resources for political campaign-related activities, Mvula said the issue should be one of the inputs to the electoral reforms because it has been a tradition among successive political parties in power to take advantage of government resources during election campaign.
But Mzuzu-based commentator Emily Mkamanga appealed for the need for proper utilisation of the Ministry of Culture, Civic Education and Community Development in the run up to the elections.
Commenting last week on traditional leaders endorsing candidates, MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika warned that the electoral body will punish the culprits in accordance with the law.
Under Section 115(b)(iv) of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act, it is an offence punishable by a fine of K500 000 and imprisonment for two years for any person who denies any political party or candidate equal treatment with any other political party or candidate.
The newly legislated Political Parties Act, on the other hand, prohibits issuing of handouts to lure voters.
Mesn recruited and deployed 57 long-term observers (LTOs) to observe the pre-election period in the country’s 193 constituencies. The long-term observation task seeks to maintain free and credible elections by providing periodic information through reports on the pre-election environment.