- Stakeholders tout women, youths as deciding factor
Electoral stakeholders have mentioned youths and women as key to deciding the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections with Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) statistics showing they have formed the majority of registrants so far in the first five phases.
The stakeholders were responding to The Nation enquiry on what they make of the composition of registrants ahead of the elections when Malawians will hire a President, 193 legislators and 462 ward councillors for the five-year period from May 2019 to 2024.
In its report released on Friday to the National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof), MEC said the voter registration exercise had captured 3 721 774 voters to date out of whom 1 980 068 are women (representing 53.2 percent) and 1 741 199 are men (representing 46.78 percent).
From the 3.7 million registrants, 2 081 252 (or 56 percent) of all new registered voters are youths aged between 18 and 35, according to the statistics which also show that the total number of registrants was 300 000 short of the projected figures. The figure is also less than the 2014 registration at the same stage.
Reacting to the statistics, Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) chairperson Steve Duwa, in an interview on Tuesday, said the 1.9 million women and two million youth registrants will be a significant force not to be taken for granted by political parties.
In an e-mailed response, he said: “It is interesting to see the number of women and youths. These are likely going to be game-changers in the 2019 elections because the majority of these are unemployed and have come to realise that they have been sidelined for far too long by political leaders.
“For this reason, we have seen an increased interest by political leaders to target the two groups. Politicians will ignore these two categories [women and youths] in the coming elections at their own peril.”
On declining registration figures, Duwa said frustrations over poor governance, political violence and inadequate civic education were some of the factors leading to reduced numbers of registered voters.
But Non-Governmental Organisations Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) chairperson Emma Kaliya said while the number of women is encouraging, it may not necessarily translate into the picking up of the campaign to increase the number of women in political positions.
She said: “Yes, the numbers of women speak volumes, but that has always been the trend. It does not automatically translate into an advantage to our 50:50 campaign.
“If only we embraced the proportional representation system, we would be telling a different story today. We have already seen worrying trends in the primary elections so far held by some parties. Women are still on the back foot. They are not being given chance in most cases.”
Ironically, a proposal to introduce proportional representation electoral system in the country—which formed part of the Electoral Reforms Bills—was shot down by Parliament last year.
Mzuzu-based Youth and Society (YAS) executive director Charles Kajoloweka, in a WhatsApp response on the number of youth registrants, said while the figures were encouraging, there was need to empower the youth with knowledge to make right decisions.
He said: “This is evidence that the 2019 elections lie in the hands of the youth and that no political player should undermine this demographic power.
“But having numerical advantage is one thing and using that to the benefit of the majority is yet another. What we need now is to ensure the youth use their numerical strength to make a difference for the better of the country. Without harnessing this energy, it will be very difficult for the youth to make use of their political capital.”
Kajoloweka said some youth groups were conducting ‘youth decide’ campaigns and formulating a youth manifesto which is expected to be a guiding tool for politicians in addressing youth needs.
Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali said the party was framing its messages on the trajectory of registration patterns.
In an interview, he said: “As MCP, we have packaged our campaign messages to appeal to these groups knowing their potential. Our only worry is that there has not been enough civic education; hence, the projected numbers have not been reached.”
United Democratic Front (UDF) spokesperson Ken Ndanga observed that women and youths are “the most marginalised groups” in society.
He said: “They have been used. Going into this election, their expectations are sky high. It is time politicians stopped using rhetoric. What the majority want are actionable programmes that will change their lives.”
In a telephone interview, Noel Masangwi, national chairperson for the newly formed United Transformation Movement (UTM), said the data released by MEC has exonerated the movement’s drive to focus on youths.
He said: “Our messages and our manifesto are centred on young people and women. We know that these groups, if given a chance, can drive the economy for the benefit of all citizens. These statistics will only add energy to our drive.”
But Gift Sambo, a political analyst based at the University of Malawi’s (Unima) Chancellor College, cautioned political players against misinterpreting the statistics.
He said: “Normally, people would think that since many youths and women are registering then it will be an automatic victory for certain parties or candidates.
“The problem is that most of them are based in the rural settings and lack political information. It is, therefore, a matter of how political players reach out to these groups. The biggest narrative is that these groups have been marginalised and they believe it is their time to rise.”
Over the years, trends have shown that voters have abrogated their right to vote, having seen a voter turnout of 93.8 percent in the 1999 General Elections going down to 70 percent in 2014 where out of 7 470 806 registered voters, 5 285 278 cast their votes.
The country registered the lowest voter turnout in the 2004 elections at 59.3 percent, according to MEC statistics.
In a 2006 study commissioned by the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD), Unima Department of Political and Administrative Studies associate professor Blessings Chinsinga blamed MEC for its failure to function as a “competent, autonomous and arbiter of the electoral process” which leads to people losing interest in the electoral process.
Representatives of governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), United Transformation Movement (UTM) and People’s Party (PP) were not available for comment despite several attempts.