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.
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.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :