The Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) has announced that it will hold by-elections in Milonde Ward and Malindi Ward on 10th April, 2018. We have some questions for your attention below considering that this came a few days after launch of elections.
- Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) has announced holding of two Local Government By-elections which some stakeholders feel could have been left unfilled as there are a few months to go before the tripartite elections and the elections are less important, what is your view?The by-elections are held in accordance of the law. Section 23(2) of the Local Government Elections Act, mandates the Commission to conduct by-elections whenever there is a vacancy of a ward. The Commission is treating these by-elections seriously and all procedures within the precincts of the law are being followed. There might be temptations to trivialise the local by-elections and place them under the shadow of the Tripartite Elections. But to the Commission there is no small election, every election is serious business. While the views that are contrary to the holding of the by-elections might be popular now, but the law must be respected and upheld. The people in the two wards deserve representation in the council. It is the responsibility and legal mandate of the Commission to ensure that is preserved.
- The MEC has on occasions been faced with situations of low funding. Could the money meant to be spent on by-elections not be saved and added to the budget for the Tripartite Elections? How much has government released to MEC for these by-elections?
The principle of democratic representation cannot be given a monetary value or be substituted. Councillors do important work in representing their people in Councils. The by-elections are expected to cost about MK254m. The importance of the two wards having representation in the council should not be denied on the basis of cost of holding the by-elections. MEC has really come up with a shoe string budget by salvaging materials from the warehouse to avoid incurring other expenses and also gleaning savings from other activities.
- Before announcing the plan to hold by-elections in the two wards, did MEC summon stakeholders and seek their views? If they were consulted what did they say?While MEC always consults with stakeholders on major activities, the Commission retains the right to make independent decisions regarding the conduct of elections. The holding of the by-elections cannot be stopped by insistence from stakeholders. MEC is implementing the law which must be upheld at all times.
- Does the holding of these two by-elections not disturb or draw away the attention of the Commission regarding preparation for the 2019 Tripartite Elections?The holding of these by-elections will require time and dedication of human resources. MEC has put in place measures to ensure that roll out of activities for the 2019 Tripartite Elections is not affected by holding of these by-elections. There is articulate allocation of staff and resources to the two activities so that none suffers. The nation and all stakeholders should be rest assured that all activities are under control.
- In 2017we saw the Commission postponing by-elections because government failed to release funding, will this not happen with these by-elections?We don’t see any possibility of stopping the by-elections half-way and resuming at a later time. That would disturb the timing. MEC has planned everything in a manner that the by-elections have to be held before the start of registration of voters for the Tripartite Elections which is a big scale activity that will require more staff and resources. It will be in the interest of all stakeholders to have these by-elections held now and disposed off. You may also wish to note that on funding we are using savings and materials that were left over from past by-elections.
- At what point will the Commission stop conducting by-elections so that it gives itself enough time to concentrate on preparations for the 2019 elections?We are hoping that as we go towards the 2019 Tripartite Elections there will not be any more vacancies that will require MEC to hold by-elections that fall close to the Tripartite Elections. The Commission has planned that the cut-off point be 12 months to Tripartite Elections. From the look of things this could be the last by-elections.
Past by-elections have been characterized by low voter turnout. What measures have you put in place to ensure there is high voter turnout?
The Commission has stepped up voter education in the country through public meetings with traditional leaders and their subjects, deploying loudhailer mobilizing teams which have been also distributing brochures, posters, letters and other civic education materials. We have crisscrossed the wards reaching out to every corner with messages encouraging the electorate to participate effectively in election activities.
Apart from mobilizing people for high turnout, the civic education teams have also taken time to teach them how to vote with the aim of minimizing number of null and void votes. From the observation of the registration process, there are indicators that participation will be high. During registration process which run from 1st to 5th March, 2018 there was high turnout of people to register and verify their details in the voters’ register.
- Any last words to registered voters and candidates?Every election is serious business. MEC is not compromising the standards because the current by-elections are in two wards with high likelihood of being shrouded by preparations and attention paid to Tripartite Elections. We expect effective participation from stakeholders like in any other election held hitherto. We encourage all people to be patronizing campaign rallies of all candidates so that they make informed decision on April 10 when they go for voting in their large numbers.
All stakeholders should be assured that it is always in the interest of the Commission to hold by-elections as soon as a vacancy arises and we will always endeavour to fulfil this.