Malawi’s electoral reforms, geo-politics


he 2019 Tripartite Elections process in Malawi laid bare the requisite to think outside the box and demystify the needful reforms befitting the electoral body.

Malawi adopted the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system from our colonial masters Britain. We espoused the so called FPTP or single member plurality system which is the simplest and most widely used electoral system throughout the entire world.

Under this system, a country is divided into different, albeit relatively equal, electoral zones known as constituencies from which contestants must emerge to occupy their seats in the legislature.

Since colonial era our political governance in Malawi has been generated from regional fronts which in some circles are called strongholds where swinging votes emancipate. We can’t address the electoral flaws without addressing the party systems which escalate these regional parities. The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) regards the Central Region as their stronghold and the lower shire and Lhomwe belt falls under the governing Democratic Progressive party (DPP).

However, can we say the rise of former Vice-President Saulos Chilima is deposing the so-called traditional political landscape in Malawi? We can’t ignore the neo-political discourse which the UTM Party has brought to the political front.

Malawi will remain stunted in its electoral trajectory if the electorate will continue to foster voting according to geographical regional lines. In this instance a party with most populous Southern Region base or Central Region base will have the winning edge and those parties with least regional base will continue to be at the tip of the coin. Nation-building efforts should start from the way the party structures are fathomed in our traditional politics.

If change can be brought to our pluralistic system in Malawi, political parties should embrace this diversity by positioning themselves as parties for the country not belonging to a particular ethnic region or a few bourgeoisie’s.

Since, the ruling party is responsible for administering the government machinery, there is need to adopt party reforms that will be inclusive and accommodative beyond ethnic backgrounds. The big hindrance that has cloned a lot of parties is compromise—party members having a financial muscle have aloft in decision-making. Functional reforms in our party-political system should be en masse from leadership, financial, decision making, inclusiveness, and education spectrums.

Also noteworthy is the fact that parties leave electoral sensitisation to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), forgetting that party monitors need to be comprehensively trained in auditing and accounting.

In the just ended elections, we saw party monitors failing to count and audit their own votes because of illiteracy. Civic education in promoting a free and fair election cannot be downplayed. Democracy requires informed participation of the electorate, but before this can happen, and to lessen conflict and confusion about the democratic process, citizens must remain informed and engaged.

Socrates pointed out that voting in an election is a skill, not a random intuition. Like any skill, it needs to be taught systematically to people and letting citizenry vote without an education remains irresponsible.

The MEC chairperson’s sentiments could be heard that biometric voting system was negated. Alas! It’s a credible system as it is a voting system which relies on the use of an individual’s biometric features for identification and authentication. The computerised biometric voting system will scan the individual voter’s iris or their fingerprint to validate if the individual presenting themselves for voting at a polling station is indeed the real registered voter.

If the electoral body hired expatriate auditors to do this noble job what can bar political parties in putting in place their own auditors to do the necessary checks and balances and speed up the counting and balancing of electoral votes. If our electoral ethnicisation will not embrace this paradigm shift, voter apathy will continue to be a disillusionment due to our geo-politics and stunted electoral system. n

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