Malawi gears for elections

SANF 19 no 15 – by Charles Mkoka in Lilongwe, Malawi
Malawians will go to polls on 21 May to elect their President, parliamentarians and councillors in historic elections – the first to be held under a new Political Parties Act.

The new Political Parties Act, which came into force in December 2018 proposes major changes to the electoral system including the deregistration of political parties that fail to win at least two parliamentary seats or at least 5 percent of the national votes in two successive elections.

According to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), a total of 14 political parties are taking part in the Tripartite Elections, which marks 25 years of multiparty politics since 1994.

In this regard, the 21 May poll will provide a test to the political parties on how well their ideals resonate with the electorate, the majority of whom live in the rural areas of the country.

Malawi uses the First Past the Post electoral system under which the candidate with the most votes is declared the winner in each of the 193 constituencies.

The same criteria applies for the presidential elections.

A total of seven candidates will contest for the presidency of Malawi.

These include the incumbent, Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who has been president since 2014.

The ruling DPP party has a strong support base in the south of the country, and that base has been expanding to most part of the country due to development work implemented by the government in recent years.

Other candidates are Lazarus Chakwera of the main opposition party, Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which has gone into a pact with the People’s Party (PP) that is led by former President, Joyce Banda.

The opposition MCP enjoys considerable support in central Malawi.

Another contender for the presidential seat is the incumbent Vice President, Saulos Chilima, who broke away from the ruling DPP to form his own party in 2018 called the United Transformation Movement (UTM).

Atupele Muluzi – son to former President Bakili Muluzi – is also one of the presidential candidates for the 21 May elections.

Both Chilima and Muluzi are members of the current government under Mutharika serving as Vice President and Health Minister respectively.

There are no women candidates for the presidency — a situation that does not augur well with the aspiration of the Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which aims for equal representation of women and men in all political and other decision-making positions.

According to the MEC, more than 6.8 million people have registered to vote in the 21 May elections. Malawi has a population of more than 17.5 million.

In the last election held in 2014, the DPP won 50 seats or 26 percent of the 193-member House of Assembly.

The MCP got 48 seats, followed by the PP that garnered 26 seats, while the UDF won 14 seats, with the Chipani Cha Pfuko and Alliance for Democracy getting one seat each.

Independent MPs made up 27 percent of the House, meaning that the previous House of Assembly was a hung parliament as no party had an overall majority in Parliament.

The elections in Malawi will be observed by a number of local, regional and international organizations, who have already deployed their missions across the country.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) launched a 39-member election observer mission to Malawi on 11 May.

The SADC Election Observation Mission (SEOM), led by the Zambian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Malanji will observe the elections in phases: the pre-election period, election-day and post-election.

The SEOM is expected to produce a report on the conduct of the polls in line with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which encourage Member States to promote common political values and systems.

Malanji called for peace and tolerance before, during and after the elections.

“As there are only days left before polling day, may I, therefore, take this opportunity to encourage all stakeholders to ensure that these elections are conducted in a peaceful and secure environment,” he said.

The Director of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation at the Secretariat, Jorge Cardoso, said the expectations of the SEOM would be guided and measured mainly against provisions and requirements of the Malawi Constitution, as well as the SADC Treaty, the Revised SADC Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, and the Revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.

After the election, the SEOM will issue a statement on the conduct of the poll.

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