Criminalize handouts in Malawi electoral process – stakeholders

The Chairperson of Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament Kezzie Msukwa has called on electoral stakeholders to fight for criminalizing of handouts in the electoral process so that only aspirants who have real issues to offer to the public should make it in the forthcoming tripartite elections.

Msukwa made the remarks during a stakeholder meeting on Promoting Political Tolerance which was convened by Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) in Lilongwe in collaboration with faith mother bodies like Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM), Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), CCAP Nkhoma Synod and Anglican Church.

“Aspiring candidates give handouts to the electorate to influence them to vote for them consequently resulting in putting in elected office people who have nothing to offer to the public. This also discourages candidates who don’t have financial muscle but can contribute to the development of country,” said Msukwa.

Msukwa asked MEC to critically find ways of curbing the tendency of politicians giving handouts to voters as a way of wooing them.

Chinsinga:No quick fix to the problem

Chinsinga:No quick fix to the problem

He cited an example of neighboring Zambia who have set the pace in this regard, saying people elected to Parliament are chosen because of what they have to offer and not what they give out to sway votes in their favour.

“In the last election in Zambia there were 60 petitions involving candidates who were discovered them canvassing for votes by giving handouts. In Chipata, a Member of Parliament was removed from the august house after it was discovered that he made it to Parliament by using handouts,” observed Msukwa.

He, therefore, called on the stakeholders to lobby for such a law that will criminalize handouts to bring sanity in elected offices.

Blessings Chinsinga, associate professor of political science at Chancellor College, argues that there is a big connection between handouts and the entrenchment of the country’s democracy.

“The capacity for a politician to provide handouts depends on how wealthy one is. As a result, we end up voting for rich people, some of them not well endowed in terms of articulating policies the country needs to transform,” Chinsinga was recently quoted by The Nation.

He pointed out that, because of handouts, elections no longer become a competition on policy issues; rather it is about which politician has the capacity to use his or her riches to influence the public.

Chinsinga proposes that Malawi needs to invest more in improving the livelihoods of poor people so that they are not desperate and vulnerable.

In a 2009 research project submitted to Chancellor College Faculty of Political Studies titled The Influence of Candidates Handouts on Voter’s Choice: The Case of 2009 Parliamentary Elections in Blantyre Bangwe Constituency, Twambilire Harris Mwabungulu notes that electoral laws and corrupt practices in Malawi are silent on handouts.

But Msukwa strongly believes that coming up with a strong legislation, the tendency can be curbed.

Senior Chief Kalumbu of Lilongwe also concurred with Msukwa who also observed that there is need to revisit the Chiefs Act as it has a lot of loopholes which gives pressure to the traditional leaders to work with ‘the government of the day’ saying that is misinterpreted by some overzealous party officials to mean that they work with the ruling party.

Chief Kalumbu said there are always cases where are funerals in area of jurisdiction and it is discovered that aspiring candidates come with coffins to the deceased families as a way of trying to canvass for  votes when in fact the chiefs have not yet been informed of such funerals.

“There was a case in my area where two different aspiring candidates came to a home of a deceased family with two coffins for one funeral. This brought confusion and a lot of distress to the bereaved family as they were in dilemma as to which coffin to take. To make it worse as chief as was not yet informed that there was a funeral in my area,” said Chief Kalumbu.

In her contribution, Tafazwa Muropa a Capacity Building and Advocacy Advisor for Progressio Malawi who have been running the project on Political Tolerance with CCJP said it was acknowledged that there is political intolerance in the communities, though not at a large scale like in Kenya and Zimbabwe.

“It was also acknowledged that political parties use the youth to incite political violence through providing inadequate cash which in turn leads to violence among the youth themselves, as they would be fighting for the cash,” said Muropa.

Political handouts have been a constant feature in Malawi political landscape.–MEC Stringer

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