Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has asked political parties to follow all Covid-19 preventive measures ahead of the June 29 by-elections.
Governance and political commentators have since weighed in on the call, urging parties to explore alternative means of conducting campaigns in Nkhata Bay Central Constituency, Chikwembere Ward in Blantyre North Constituency and Lalanje Ward in Nsanje Lalanje Constituency.
In a statement on Saturday, MEC chairperson Chifundo Kachale asked political parties to follow Covid-19 preventive measures as one way of ensuring that people are not put at risk.
He said: “Covid-19 pandemic is still with us and majority of the new transmissions are local. My appeal goes to political parties and candidates to ensure that they observe the Covid-19 regulations and put every measure to protect their followers and supporters.”
While urging supporters to also take a personal initiative in ensuring they do not get infected or spread the pandemic, Kachale stressed the need for various stakeholders including chiefs, churches and teachers to encourage people to adhere to the prevention measures.
In separate interviews yesterday, governance and political commentators said political parties also need strong mechanisms on how they can control their supporters in a bid to control the spread of the pandemic.
Institute of Policy Interaction executive director Rafiq Hajat said it is almost impossible to guarantee adherence to Covid-19 rules in mass gatherings such as political rallies.
He said: “They could become hotspots for spreading the virus. It is, therefore, essential for political parties to come up with alternative means of campaigning, perhaps through greater usage of mass communication such as radio, television and social media.”
In a separate interview, University of Malawi political analyst Ernest Thindwa bemoaned that appropriate agencies tasked to enforce Covid-19 prevention measures tend to be docile when it relates to political parties’ activities.
However, he said campaign strategies other than political rallies are less feasible and effective in rural areas
“The majority voting population is in rural areas where not only is access to such facilities extremely challenging but also less entertaining compared to political rallies,” said Thindwa.
When asked what campaign strategies they have put in place to ensure they adhere to the preventive measures ahead of the by-election, both UTM Party and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) who have candidates, said they will follow all the set measures.
In an interview, UTM Party spokesperson Frank Mwenifumbo, said the party will continue to observe all Covid-19 protocols during and after the by-elections.
“UTM will not just observe but proactively sensitise the public and communities of the dangers of Covid-19 as a way of increasing public awareness so as to thwart the spread,” he said.
On his part, MCP publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali also said they will follow all guidelines and sensitise party supporters on the importance of adhering to the same.
However, efforts to speak to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Brown Mpinganjira proved futile as he did not pick up our phone calls on numerous attempts. He also did not respond to our questionnaire.
Nkhata Bay Central Constituency fell vacant following a Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal ruling that nullified the May 21 2019 parliamentary election, while both Chikwembere and Lalanje wards fell vacant following the deaths of their respective councillors.