The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has clarified “on the determination of number of constituencies per council for the 2025 elections” and on some quarters’ concerns that increasing the number of constituencies from 193 to 228 does not make economic sense.
In a communique issued on Thursday, November 4, 2021, at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe at a meeting with Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) Boards, the Commission says it is only discharging its functions within the framework of the existing legal instruments.
According to the communique signed by MEC’s Chairperson, Justice Dr. Chifundo Kachale, Section 76 (2) of the Constitution which enjoins the Commission ‘to determine constituency boundaries impartially on the basis of ensuring that constituencies contain approximately equal numbers of voters eligible to register, subject only to consideration of: (i) Population density, (ii) Ease of communication; and (iii) Geographical features and existing administrative boundaries.
It says in its nationwide consultations, it met with over 3000 different stakeholders through a series of meetings at each Council which had been preceded by engagements with political party and other civic leaders.
“The other people consulted included academia, civil society organizations, faith and traditional leaders, youth and women representatives as well as ordinary interested citizens.
“Throughout these meetings the Commission was quite keen to emphasize the central role of the relevant legal stipulations in guiding the distribution of constituencies as we undertake the review of boundaries. Whilst some stakeholders questioned the economic viability of the process, we have remained committed to discharging our functions within the framework of the existing legal instruments,” reads the communique in part.
It says it has established Constituency and Ward Boundary Review Committees (CWBRC) for each council and that these teams, which have a technical mandate, will be deployed shortly to go out and consider the creation of fresh boundaries in each council.
“Before these CWBRCs could be deployed, it was the responsibility of the Commission to determine the number of seats per each council. The process followed in undertaking that exercise was a quite elaborate mathematical process. We worked out the figures that would ensure precise size based on population of eligible voters as well as population density.
“Because of the challenge of reducing the other elements under section 76(2) of the Constitution into a simple formula, the Commission had to apply those criteria on a council by council basis.
“It would be inaccurate to suggest that the Commission totally ignored the economic implications of any proposed boundary review process: from our extensive public consultations (which were broadcast on Facebook live) it would be no exaggeration to say that almost each council without exception demanded some form of increment in the number of seats,” it says.
The Commission has expressed gratitude “for the level of interest its recent report has generated so far about constituency boundary review”.
“As a body discharging a constitutional function, public discussion and criticism of our work is inevitable and indeed a welcome aspect of a healthy democratic accountability matrix. In that vein, the Commission would like to assure all stakeholders that our implementation program for this process has made further provision for direct engagement with everyone at an appropriate stage before we finalize the assignment.
“In order to discharge our responsibility competently, the Commission must pay close attention to what it understands to be the parameters defined for this activity in the law as it now stands.
“Robust public debate and stakeholder criticism of this work can only enhance the quality and validity of the final report out of this process. We remain committed to full public accountability and accept with utmost humility the onerous responsibility this office confers upon our shoulders in our evolving democratic nation,” reads the communique.
Earnest stakeholder consultations
According to the Commission, it undertook the stakeholder sensitization and consultations, within the context of democratic legitimacy, cognizant that the views of ordinary rural citizens on any national matter carry similar weight to those of their learned urban compatriots.
“Thus, when the Commission is exercising its boundary review mandate it must act with the utmost fidelity to democratic principles of inclusion and equality in order to ensure legitimacy of its decisions.
“In that regard, one has to remember that the validity and value of any views is not dependent on anything other than the constitutional imperative for affording everyone an opportunity to influence the outcome of the process on an objective and transparent basis.
“Since equality of the vote is the foundational yardstick for the entire process, then all stakeholders’ views need to be properly accounted for in performing this delicate democratic function. Access to technology and other public media which have the capacity to amplify the voice behind one particular perspective should not unduly distort the overall significance of such a position.
“That is one reason why the Commission took the deliberate decision of physically travelling to the various councils in order to ensure that we have access to the broadest range of perspectives available on this very important matter. The Commission is fully aware of the sensitivity and significance of the boundary review process to our democratic landscape: the process of public engagement is designed to reflect the tenet of effective stakeholder consultation on matters that affect their core democratic interests,” it says.
General way forward
According to the Commission, the presentation of the revised distribution of constituencies means that as far as the 2025 General Elections are concerned all boundaries have been abolished. The Commission will soon be deploying Constituency and Ward Boundary Review Committees (CWBRC) across the whole country whose task will be to physically (and technologically) ascertain what the new boundaries would look like.
“The reports from the CWBRCs will form the basis for consideration and determination of the Commission of the specific fresh constituency and ward boundaries in all the councils across Malawi. Once that formal determination has been done, fresh maps will be generated and circulated to each council for public viewing in the months of February to March 2022.
“Thereafter, the Commission will undertake another nationwide tour in order to engage the various stakeholders directly in a series of public hearings. On that occasion, the Commission will have the duty of addressing any queries or observations emerging from the gatherings.
“In addition, the Commission will arrange special engagements with members of various political parties, CSOs and other stakeholders we interacted with at the onset of the entire process,” says the communique.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :