Understandably yes, there have been calls for a decrease in the number of constituencies; people have argued that with the working of the Local Government system, Malawi does not need 193 constituencies,” MEC Chief Elections Officer Willie Kalonga.
The news in town is that the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is digesting calls from various stakeholders to decrease the number of constituencies from 193 to a number yet to be determined.
The rationale is what has been termed as “the revamping of Local Government structures mandated to implement various development programmes in their respective districts”.
Mandate-wise, Malawi Laws do authorise MEC to re-demarcate constituencies or wards once every five years. However, since 1999, the electoral body has not re-demarcated the constituencies.
Funding-wise, Treasury has allocated K300 million to MEC for the re-demarcation exercise scheduled for October this year with technical expertise from the Commonwealth.
Also on MEC’s radar is how to increase the number of women in the National Assembly following their poor representation in the House.In this regard, MEC wants to take advantage of the demarcation to solve the issue.
Options include the introduction ofa specific quota, whereby every council should have a woman voted for; meaning that when one goes to vote, one will be voting for (1) a councillor, (2) a member of Parliament, (3) a president and the fourth ballot will be for a woman.
The fourth ballot, only contested for by women, Kalonga argues,will guarantee that at least 35 women MPs from the 35 councils in the country, in addition to those elected through the normal way, will be in the august House.
Using the current 43 female legislators out of 193 seats as a yardstick – which translates to 22% representation; we will have 78 female legislators out of 228 – which will translate to 34%.
Not bad at all for a start and all this, on paper, sounds good. But there are several challenges.I will only discuss twoclosely-related political hiccups vis-à-vis the demarcation, women’s attitude with respect to the quest to increase women representation and the executive marginalization of women manifested by President Mutharika.
Political considerations vis-à-vis the demarcation:
It is more or less accepted as a fact that the Democratic progressive Party (DPP) is strongest in the South especially in the Lhombwe Belt, the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the East (in the Yao Belt), the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in the centre (in the Chewa belt) and the Peoples Party (PP) emerged the favourite in the north – something that might change depending on which party makes the most of PP’s recent Titanic-like behaviour.
IF MEC or anyone wants to reduce constituencies, they will have to come up with a formula that ALL political parties present in the various regions, would have to agree upon.
If the reduction is seen to hit the Lhomwe belt the most, DPP will not accept it. If the reduction is perceived to hit the centre the most, MCP will not accept it and so on and so forth. Because no party wants its seats to decline in the house.
Frankly speaking, I do not see any agreements or compromises on this front.
Again, even when considering which specific constituencies to declare “redundant”, there is the issue of incumbent Members of Parliament (MP) to consider.
Which MP will voluntarily agree that their constituency should disappear from the face of the earth? Which one?
I am hoping that MEC is thinking hard and will find answers to these questions.
As if this was not enough, there is the question of the organization mandated with this demarcation exercise i.e. the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) itself.
It is a fact that save for the 36.40% (MEC Figures) who actually voted for Pres Peter Mutharika; the rest 63.60% (MEC Figures) i.e. the majority, do NOT trust MEC.
Further, some analysts have argued that the recent poor voter turnout in the by-elections is rock-solidproof from Malawians that they deem MEC as trustworthy as a drunkard on his fifth bottle of beer.
If this is true, then perhaps even if Monsieur Willie Kalonga, the MEC Chair and current crop of commissioners had the best of intentions; they would not be the best suited to undertake demarcation, if it will involve reduction of constituencies.
To put it bluntly, the manner in which MEC handled, or rather mishandled the May 2014 election, makes it the least ideal body to tackle anything as controversial as a demarcation that touches on reducing the number of constituencies.
Engendering equitable women representation in public offices:
On the issue of increasing numbers of women in parliament and other public offices, which makes a lot of sense given that according to estimates, 52% of Malawians are women, I can only agree that this is long overdue.
I hold this view strongly because no football coach would plan for a match of eleven-a-side football, on five players when he needs to field a team of eleven players.
Just as any good coach will give a role to each of the eleven players, as a nation, IF we are to progress, we must give our marginalised womenfolk more prominent and meaningful roles in all levels of our society.
This goes beyond dancing at national gatherings or these functions wrongly referred to as “development rallies”.
For your information, I am suppressing an overwhelming urge to comment on President Peter Mutharika’s phobia for increasing numbers of women in Cabinet and in the newly reconstituted Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC).
With your permission, I will save this as fodder for another day.
Suffice to say that ifPresident Peter Mutharika was football coach, going by the way he makes appointments; he would be involving ONLY a small segment of his team in planning and execution; and hence his team would be losing badly – reminiscent of how we are performing – on all fronts – as a nation, save for netball.
APM Bullets or APM Wanderers or APM Strikers or APM what have you, would be the league’s punch bag!
Leaving this central and critical issue of increasing numbers of women in parliament and other public offices, cannot therefore be left to President Peter Mutharika. The guy seems to have a phobia against narrowing the gender gap.
For this noble ideal to succeed: women should for once, unite and pull in the same direction. If women can do this, men will be less confused and will support them. If they remain divided and operate in silos, they can bet on one thing: continued marginalization.
I was therefore disillusionedto read in a daily that the NGO Gender Coordination Network Chairperson, Mrs Emma Kalia, was “reluctant to comment on the issue” and after much cajoling, restricted herself to saying “the grouping was anxiously waiting to see the proposals approved”.
How will the proposals be approved IF the NGO Gender Coordination Network does not do its homework, i.e. galvanising the millions of women in Malawi to demand their piece of the pie and for once, earn the money the network gets from its funders?
As my contribution towards increasing numbers (and the quality too) of women holding public offices, and to lead by example, this once,I am not resting my case. Not yet.
I have a whole President Peter Mutharika to civic educate that: just as he cannot hope to win a football match by marginalizing more than half the team; China or no China, he cannot hope to develop Malawi by relegating women who comprise over 52% of the Malawi population.
How President Peter Mutharika fails to get this simple logic, I fail to understand.But he will understand. He will change if all women (and men of goodwill) unite to demand their rightful role and place in the sphere of development.
If he cannot change, we – Malawians – will just have to change him.
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