Political parties risk missing the deadline for submission of candidates for presidential, parliamentary and local government elections to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) if they do not resolve disputes in time, parties have admitted.
The parties, including governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party, have been holding primary elections for weeks now with most of them rocked in disputes which may affect deadlines for the May 21 Tripartite Elections nomination papers submission.
DPP was last Friday expected to hold a re-run of the primaries in Blantyre City West where a dispute arose between incumbent member of Parliament (MP) Tarsizius Gowelo and his opponent Bertha Masiku.
The election, however, did not take place as Gowelo and presiding officers did not show up at the venue.
In an interview on Sunday, Masiku expressed worry over the development, saying the delay will affect the party’s submission of a conclusive list of candidates to MEC.
She said: “We received communication from the regional governor [for the South, Charles Mchacha] about last Friday’s primary elections re-run. Delegates were ready but surprisingly, honourable Gowelo and presiding officers did not show up.”
Asked why he failed to show up for the re-run, Gowelo declined to comment and referred us to Mchacha.
But efforts to speak to the regional governor or any DPP senior officials such as secretary general Greselder Jeffrey, director of elections Ben Phiri, vice-president for the South Kondwani Nankhumwa and publicity secretary Nicholas Dausi proved futile as their phones went unanswered.
Last Monday, some aspiring MPs and councillors disputed the party’s decision to conduct a rerun in some of the constituencies, arguing that it will give room for the incumbents to rig the elections.
In Phalombe South Constituency, seven aspiring candidates wrote Mchacha notifying their withdrawal from primary elections rerun which was also scheduled for last Friday.
The aspirants, who include Tiaone Henry, Innocent Brake, Bob Chingwalu, Isaac Bwanali, Rose Kubwalo, Noel Muzapitako and Damson Chiphaka, accused the party of favouring incumbent MP Mary Mpanga who they claimed had additional 233 electoral colleges and not the 176 collages recommended by the constituency governor.
Reads the letter in part: “We, the Phalombe South MP aspirants and sitting councillors write your honourable office to notify you of our withdrawal from the primary elections. The ruling to combine the two colleges does not create any level ground for the election. This is because the added college has 233 areas which do not exist.
“With the above facts and concerns, we believe that the party has already chosen a candidate to stand for it during 2019 elections.”
On Wednesday, two different groups from Blantyre City West led by its constituency governor Blazio Chikala and Blantyre Rural West district campaign director Alson Zalinga stormed the regional office at Sunnyside in Blantyre, seeking clarification on primary election issues.
Chikala expressed anger over the party’s decision to conduct primary elections rerun in his constituency. He claimed that Gowelo won the primary elections and there was no need for a re-run. Some members of the group accused Mchacha of being corrupt and asked him to step down.
On the other hand, Zalinga’s team accused the party of trying to alter results of primary elections which they claimed had been won by George Kajumo though the incumbent MP Peter Kumpalume had been declared winner.
But in an earlier interview on Wednesday, Mchacha distanced himself from the primary elections mess, saying Jeffrey was better- placed to explain the challenges.
He said: “I am not in the primary elections committee. Before these primary elections, we told the committee that they should include us in the primary elections committee since we know all the areas’ strengths and weaknesses. But the GS, who is our boss refused. And now I am surprised that these concerns are being addressed to me. Nzeru zayekha adaviika nsima mmadzi.”
Mchacha was, however, optimistic that the party will address the differences before the deadline of MEC’s pre-examination of nomination forms in the constituencies on February 3.
But in an earlier interview on Wednesday she said contrary to Mchacha’s claim, there are several senior DPP officials in the Southern Region primary elections committee. She could not be drawn to comment further.
Meanwhile, in UTM Party, director of campaign Paul Chibingu, whose party primary elections were also marred by various challenges including ugly scenes of violence, said the party has resolved all the disputes amicably.
He said in an interview on Sunday that the party has concluded conducting primary elections in all the constituencies except Zomba Malosa and Zomba Lisanjala.
Chibingu said in Zomba Lisanjala, elections were postponed because one of the aspirants lost a relative while in Malosa there were misunderstandings on the electoral colleges. The party is expected to conduct elections in both areas this week.
But MCP spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali admitted that the dispute in Dedza East, where the party declared incumbent MP Juliana Lunguzi winner but her opponent Patrick Bandawe obtained a court injunction disputing results may affect the party’s preparations.
He said if the party fails to resolve the matter, it will seek MEC’s guidance.
Said Munthali: “Despite the challenges and court orders in Dedza East, we are also mindful of the MEC calendar. If we fail to resolve the matter in time, we will seek guidance from MEC.”
Commenting on the squabbles in the three political parties, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College-based political analyst Ernest Thindwa observed that the aspirants are fighting for personal survival to protect their own financial interests and not to serve their communities.
He further said the squabbles are an indication of lack of proper membership record for party members as some members vote in different areas.
On his part, University of Livingstonia political analyst Gorge Phiri observed that misunderstandings are a clear indication that parties did not prepare well for the primaries.
He said the disputes may affect the parties’ May 21 elections as some may run as independents.
The UTM party had initially announced that it would hold primary election in all the 193 constituencies and 452 wards nationwide simultaneously on January 3, but misunderstandings in some areas resulted in the cancellation and postponement of the elections.