On Tuesday, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) will conduct elections in Lilongwe Msozi North Constituency, Lilongwe City South East Constituency, Nsanje-Lalanje Constituency, Mayani North Ward in Dedza North Constituency, Mtsiliza Ward in Lilongwe City West Constituency and Ndirande-Makata Ward in Blantyre-Malabada Constituency. Our reporter FATSANI GUNYA engaged MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa on various issues that have been raised by stakeholders in the run up to the elections.. Excerpts:
How can you describe the by-elections campaign period?
The campaign period has been impressive with candidates and parties focusing on issues and not personalities. The trend shows that our understanding of democracy is maturing. Candidates and political parties had the freedom and room to express themselves, and sell their manifestos to the electorate without hindrances and intimidation. However, there were some incidences which could have blotted the picture but good enough they were contained.
The commission, of course, received reports of unfriendly acts in Nsanje-Lalanje. The campaign period ends on Sunday, October 15 2017 at 6AM. No one will be allowed to engage in any political activity thereafter. What it means is that everyone has to conduct their last rallies today, Saturday, October 14 2017.
We have noted that there are only about four female candidates out of about 19 in total ahead of the next week’s by-elections across the country. How does the Commission rate the country’s drive towards the 60-40 and/ or the 50-50 gender campaign in elected roles?
MEC has always been eager to implement ideas that can promote women participation in elections as candidates if its neutrality cannot be compromised. In view of that the commission introduced the 25 percent discount for local government and parliamentary women candidates in 2013 in preparation for the Tripartite Elections in 2014. It is apparent that more work needs to be done by other stakeholders. Parties need to put in place mechanisms that identify, nurture and support women interest in politics.
MEC had earlier warned that it would disqualify any candidate or political party found inciting or perpetrating political violence ahead of the election. Recent media reports show that in Nsanje-Lalanje there was violence. What will be the commission reaction?
The commission has received reports from both sides of the political continuum regarding the developments in Nsanje-Lalanje. The matter was referred to the District Commissioner in his capacity as elections coordinator for the district to resolve it. A meeting of stakeholders was convened and they all agreed and appreciated the a need for peaceful campaign period. It is good to note that things did not spill out of control; calm and peace have prevailed. We are optimistic for a peaceful voting period in the constituency and all other places where by-elections are being held [on Tuesday].
After the 2014 Tripartite Elections, opposition parties accused the commission of bias. What do you have in place to allay such suspicions in the forthcoming by-elections?
The commission has been part of the process to resolve the irregularity that was faced in Lilongwe City South East during the 2014 elections. When the recount failed because of burnt warehouse, MEC encouraged the parties involved to go to court and the late MEC chairperson, Justice Maxon Mbendera swore an affidavit. The Commission remains committed to ensuring that there is a level playing field and the results reflect the will of the people.
Lastly, what measures has the commission put in place to avert voter apathy?
The commission has stepped up voter education in the campaign period through public meetings with traditional leaders and their subjects, deploying loudhailer mobilising teams which have been also distributing brochures, posters, letters and other civic education materials.
We have also crisscrossed the constituencies and wards reaching out to every corner with messages on the need for registered voters to turnout in large numbers. Apart from mobilising people for high turnout, the civic education teams have also taken time to teach them how to vote with the aim of minimising number of null and void votes.