Stakeholders have given a mixed rating for the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections campaign period with some describing it as successful and others bemoaning violence and proliferation of “fake news” as challenges.
Political parties, civil society organisations (CSOs) and political analysts yesterday feared abuse of the social media, negative publicity, vote rigging allegations and violence could compromise voters’ confidence and lead to voter apathy.
Despite the shortfalls, however, the stakeholders expressed optimism that Malawi will hold peaceful elections on Tuesday. They added they have confidence in Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and security agencies.
Speaking during a meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) chairperson Steve Duwa said politicians have let the electorate down during the campaign period by failing to articulate critical issues in their messages. He said this led to subdued hype for the elections.
He said: “A lot of disgusting things have happened. There has been a lot of hate speeches, false news, violence, especially against women and claims of rigging plans.”
But Mzuzu-based political analyst George Phiri from the University of Livingstonia differed with the CSOs’ observations. He said the 2019 election campaign mood was an improvement compared to previous elections.
“For example, there was more violence and use of hate speech during the 2014 campaign period than this time around. In terms of visibility of political parties, we have seen that almost all political parties have been visible enough now,” he said.
But Mzuzu-based social commentator Emily Mkamanga said the CSOs’ observations were correct in that politicians concentrated more on boasting about themselves and their achievements than outlining their vision.
However, National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust faulted poor funding which lead to many CSOs not taking part in the voter civic education despite being accredited to do so.
But despite the challenges, Nice Trust executive director Ollen Mwalubunju said they reached out to all areas with the help of over 8 000 volunteers. He expressed optimism that there will be a high voter turnout and reduced number of null and void votes.
On their part, some of the contesting political parties expressed satisfaction with the campaign period, saying they have been able to articulate all issues to voters.
“We are satisfied. We were not restricted on time as we started articulating our issues way before the [official] campaign period,” said Malawi Congress Party (MCP) national campaign director Moses Kunkuyu.
United Democratic Front (UDF) secretary general Kandi Padambo cited favouritism in the allocation of venues for rallies as a major challenge the party faced.
UTM Party spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga said the party reached all corners during the campaign despite facing intimidation, vandalism of its properties and violence targeted at its members.
On women’s participation during the elections, Women’s Legal Resource Centre (Wolrec) executive director Maggie Kathewera Banda said she was upbeat that more women will win in this year’s elections.
She said: “Through our project called Women Empowerment for Leadership Programme, we have been supporting women to have confidence and they have done all necessary requirements during the campaign. We have also seen a change of attitude among the public in terms of support for women in politics.”
Reacting to the issues raised, MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika commended all parties for supporting the commission in civic educating voters on the electoral process, adding that the collaboration made everything run smoothly.
He said: “Political parties gave us a boost. I have seen a number of them using very big sample ballot papers to demonstrate to their supporters how to mark and vote.”
Alfandika said MEC is striving to deliver all polling materials in time to ensure that polling starts at 6am and closes at 6pm.
The 60-day official campaign period closes this Sunday at 6am.