It is still early days to say with any certainty how many people will appear on the ballot paper as presidential candidates on May 21. But indications so far are that it will feature 13 or more candidates—Lazarus Chakwera (Malawi Congress Party (MCP); Peter Mutharika (Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); Saulos Chilima (United Transformation Movement Party (UTM); Joyce Banda (People’s Party (PP); Atupele Muluzi (United Democratic Front (UDF). Some are Chris Daza (Democratic People’s Congress (Depeco); Cassim Chilumpha (Tikonze People’s Movement); Chimbuna Belekiah for the United Independence Party (UIP) Chimbuna Belekiah; Peter Kuwani for Mbakuwaku Movement for Development (MMD). Others are Ras Chikomeni David Chirwa, Henry Mbewe, Smart Swira, and Baxter Natulu.
My point is, people collect nomination forms to contest in an election for many reasons, but it seems it has now become all too easy for anyone who can raise the nomination K2 million to appear on the ballot paper. Or to pay the money for mere political posturing. Zalowa masanje.
It is very clear that the motivation for some of these aspirants is not to get to State House? Because for all we know, that is a far cry. They have other objectives for collecting nomination forms and paying the K2 million fee.
I am not here to demean anybody, but just come to think of it, while it is their democratic to contest for whatever political position in the country, MEC should have made the requirement more restrictive so the contest is not abused.
For what the presidency is, in my view, K2 million is on the lower side when the fee for a parliamentary candidate is K500 000. MEC should have raised the fee for the presidential candidate so that only serious candidates appear on the prized paper. Otherwise many will just be time wasters.
In the 2014 elections, we saw how some candidates used the platform that the presidential candidacy provides to raise their profile and visibility as parliamentary candidates. One or two made it to Parliament that way. If that is the motivation for some of them, they are abusing the privilege.
Another requirement for a presidential candidate is that one has to be able to speak and read the English language well enough to take an active part in the proceedings of Parliament. In Malawi, the President only appears in Parliament to deliver the State of the Nation Address (Sona), usually once or twice a year. So what is so special with Parliament? On the other hand, the President reads many documents written in English and attends many meetings and conferences that are conducted in the Queen’s language. Were these not better reasons to require that a presidential candidate should speak and read the English language well?
MEC has also said academic or educational qualifications like holding a Malawi School Certificate (MSCE) or a first degree are not part of the eligibility criteria for any elective position whether as President, MP or Councillor.
The question is: In the absence of a prescribed academic qualification or certification, how will MEC assess or evaluate a candidate’s competence in and proficiency of English? And what does well enough mean?
Then there is this easy to proscribe but difficult to police restriction that for any of the three positions, candidates should not hold, or act, in any public office or appointment. Who will police this requirement? Experience has shown that this requirement only applies to people who are not affiliated to the ruling party. Right now there are many people in the ruling party who are vying for political positions but also hold public offices but will not relinquish their public positions. What mechanisms has MEC put in place for ensuring that all the requirements it has prescribed are followed? And whose responsibilty will that be? It is very important for MEC to ensure that it levels the playing field by seeing to it that its requirements apply to everybdoy the same way. That way, MEC will win the trust and credibilty of the people and the elections will be free, fair and violence free. n