Voter apathy point to loss of trust in Malawi Electoral Commission

Indeed, it would not be an understatement to suggest that Malawians are wary of the manner in which elections are administered by the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec). The recent unprecedented low turn-out, or voter apathy, during the Ward Councillors By-elections in Karonga, Mzuzu, Mangochi and Thyolo speaks volumes about the fresh memories Malawians have about the shambolic manner in which the May 20, 2014 Tripartite Elections were conducted.

Justice Mbendera :  There should be a research on the phenomenon of voter apathy

Justice Mbendera : There should be a research on the phenomenon of voter apathy

Writing in the OPED section of The Sunday Times of August 30, 2015, former State House Press Officer, Tusekele Mwanyongo argues that for the past 20 years that Malawi has been a multiparty democracy, there has been very little to celebrate about in as far as the conduct of elections is concerned.

“Save for the first multiparty elections in 1994, the rest, after every five years, have left a lot to be desired in terms of administration. Electoral disputes arising from suspected electoral irregularities, violence and sheer confusion have characterized the previous national polls. Lives have been lost in the process,” writes Mwanyongo.

He claims that the May 20, 2014 Tripartite Elections are the ‘worst case scenario’ and that many people had expected problems anyway as it was the first time Malawians were voting three times—for the President, MP and Ward Councillor.

“Prior to the elections, one analyst had noted that being the first time that the Mec were to conduct Tripartite Elections, many problems were to come from the handling of large volume of candidates, which would culminate in numerous complaints. It was never to be,” he writes.

According to Mwanyongo, who worked under former President Joyce Banda, most of the problems of the May 20, 2014 polls were administrative in nature, from registration, actual polling and the release of the results.

He observes that in many polling centres, there were no voting materials until very late in the morning of the polling day. This sparked violence in some areas in Blantyre where property was destroyed. In some instances, ballot boxes had seals without serial numbers.

“How does one ensure the integrity of the vote under those circumstances? There was very little indelible ink, which meant that after some time either voting was going to either be suspended or continue without evidence of voting. Many voters’ names were missing from voters roll.

“Now, Malawians learnt with shock that Mec spent a whopping MK400 million on civic education and sensitization exercises to lure voters ahead of the by-elections, which were conducted last week in Khwawa Ward in Karonga, Luchenza Ward in Thyolo, Zomba Central Ward, Mzuzu’s Chibanja Ward and Mangochi’s Msikisi Ward.

“It appears the millions of Kwacha allocated to voter education went to waste, and whatever voter education that was conducted fell on a hard rock as the elections were characterized by acute voter apathy. People simply decided to have nothing to do with the by-elections. Out of 28,000 registered voters, only a very small percentage cast their ballot. In one ward, the total ballots cast ware not more than 300,” he says.

He claims that such terrible voter apathy symbolizes serious discontent among voters over the circumstances surrounding the conduct and administration of elections. It is a telling indicator of a much larger malaise in our electoral systems. The by-elections must not be looked at as a single incident, but a running story from last year’s tripartite polls, he writes.

He says that various May 2014 post-election postmortem have generally concluded that the elections were neither fair nor credible due to flaws in the voter’s roll, poor management of the voting process and announcement of results.

“The common aspect that has emerged from these post-election analyses and meetings is the need for electoral reforms. This was also the recommendation of the May 2014 elections observer missions such as the European Union, the African Union, the Electoral Commission Forum for SADC countries, and the Commonwealth,” Mwanyongo writes.

He opines managing elections is not just an outreach affair; it is a national exercise that ought to be holistic.

“Malawians have completely lost trust in Mec capacity to run elections. The recent voter-apathy is a sure verdict on Mec and stand as a tale-tale exhibition of the people’s discontent. As the old saying goes, ‘we cannot expect different results when we are doing the same things’.

“Stakeholders have recommended the implementation of electoral reforms over the past years. As a nation, we cannot just cast aside that voice. Now, the people themselves have stayed away. They have spoken as well and a ‘reform-driven’ government must listen.

“The civil society and our cooperating partners must help our government to implement the necessary reformsin the country’s electoral processes and systems, including enhancing the independence and technical capacity of Mec as soon as possible based on the past lessons,” concludes Mwanyongo.

Political analyst at University of Malawi Boniface Dulani  attributed the voter apathy to lack of trust by voters and failure by the country’s political parties and MEC to make people recognise the importance of voting.

Dulani said voters see nothing enthusiastic to make them vote.

He quashed suggestions that the country should enact a law that would make voting compulsory.

“There are countries such as Singapore where voting is compulsory but they still don’t get a 100 percent voter turn out. Voting is a right and I don’t see any reason in forcing people to take part,” Dulani said.

MEC chairperson Justice Maxon Mbendera also noted about voter apathy.

“The phenomenon of low voter turnout or voter apathy is very worrisome. The Commission left no stone unturned in ensuring that voters in the five wards were reached with voter information messages. This is not encouraging if compared to the turnout during the Tripartite Elections which was 70.7 percent,” he said.

Mbendera called on institutions of higher learning in the country to conduct a research on the causes of voter apathy.

Melia Likoswe Douglas of the DPP won the Central Ward, Bydon Katambika Msiska of the DPP won the Khwawa Ward, Henderson Alex Spoon of DPP won the Luchenza Ward while Charles Mlogera of MCP won the Chibanja Ward and Oliver Tayub of UDF the Msikisi Ward.

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Alungwana
Guest

Is there anybody who trust the weeping Mbendera and his Mec?

ngongoliwa
Guest

Dont be worried over a mare war councilor not even a constituency let alone a country. So no need of research.

RayAnne
Guest

This idea of analysing things as a little island called Malawi is just myopic. Low voter turn out in local govt by elections is VERY NORMAL everywhere in the world! do get over yourself!

food for thought
Guest
Some of you individuals here are the most illogical individuals I have ever had the displeasure of having to read’s comments. It is not a certain conclusion that voter apathy is as a result of the MEC, because if people knew that it was a done deal that the ruling party would win, do you not believe that there would then be scores of DPP supporters flooding the polling centers, at the very least??? I believe that the data collected in terms of the numbers that actually voted and the distribution of votes needs to be analysed, because even the… Read more »
Mapiri
Guest

No need for research. The answers are obvious. Why waste money!

becks
Guest

Opposition parties what are you doing to get rid of Mbendera and fellow MEC commissioners.

mtumbuka1
Guest

Some dpp idiots are saying there was voter apathy because people does not see the importance of councillors, that is utter nonsense why did they register in the first place? They register to vote but when the time to vote comes they know that the results are a foregone conclusion as long as stupid mbendera and his dpp team are calling the shots at the electoral commission! So dpp sympathisers just zip it up since according to you mbendera and mutharika will live for fucking ever.

G.Phiri
Guest

This reminds me of what happened last time when we had elections for councillors only in 2000. People of Malawi do not see the use of councillors hence the poor turnout. No need to blame MEC. The writer of this story seems to have a negative altitude towards MEC and especially the current one because it did not listen to his mistress. This is total rubbish. The fact is that people do not need councillors.

True Malawian
Guest

If it were a general election, iam sure Malawians would have turnedout in their large numbers.People donot see why they should waste their time electing a councillor while chiefs are capable of carrying out the duties of a councilor quite well.All those who are blaming MEC for voter apathy have missed the point.

hzayakunkhongo
Guest

Voter apathy is because election results in most cases are not peoples’ choices i.e elections are rigged, so people are frustrated and they don’t see any reasons of wasting time voting?

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