Malawi’s city and municipal residents could soon be voting for their mayors should proposals to amend the Local Government Act come to pass
If effected, it means the current system whereby councillors choose a mayor will fall off.
Both Ministry of Local Government and Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) confirmed this week that there is a proposal to change laws governing city mayoral elections to enable metropolitan residents to vote.
The proposed law could empower residents to vote for a mayor with the most competitive policies and ideas to develop their cities or municipalities.
Already, in countries such as Zambia, South Africa and Mozambique, residents vote for mayors.
Minister of Local Government Blessings Chinsinga observed in an interview on Monday that allowing municipal and city residents to vote for mayors will help to create a social contract between mayors and residents.
He noted that there is no direct link of accountability between mayors and residents because residents are currently not involved in mayoral elections.
Said Chinsinga: “We strongly believe that if we establish that linkage, then anyone who wants to become a mayor will sell their manifesto to the people. Therefore, the people will have an opportunity to hold them accountable.
“We intend to push this in the process of amending the Local Government Act. But as you know there are so many stakeholders, so these are just proposals.”
Malga executive director Hadrod Mkandawire said his association serves the interest of local governments, which are institutions owned by the people through their elected representatives.
He stressed the need to deepen the conversation by getting more views from other stakeholders on whether the law should be amended to serve the interest of the public.
Said Mkandawire: “We support the proposal that possibly we should consider revising the law, transferring the powers of electing the mayor from the councillors to the general population as is the case with all other developing and developed economies.
“We have developed a concept and we are looking for resources because we want to have a thorough comprehensive research.”
Chinsinga and Malga’s position follows a debate that surfaced in 2017 after former Blantyre City mayor Noel Chalamanda lost to his deputy Wild Ndipo in an election that did not please some residents.
Political scientist Henry Chingaipe welcomed the proposal to allow city residents to vote for mayors.
He said the current voting system gives an opportunity to parties with more councillors to win the elections.
Chingaipe, who is also Political Science Association executive member, observed that the politics that happen during election of mayors has not helped in terms of development in cities or municipalities.
“I think we can point to the elections that we have seen in Blantyre City that you can remove a very able and competent mayor that is delivering services and improving the city simply because politically he seems not to be playing ball with others,” he said.
Chingaipe suggested that there should be separate ballots for mayors during the general elections.
Malawi resumed voting for councillors in the 2014 Tripartite Elections after the dissolution of local councils in 2005.