A grouping of Malawian electoral stakeholders that is tasked with promoting good governance and transparency was on Friday thrown into dilemma over the definition of what will constitute a political handout during the campaign period.
t the District Advisory Forum (DAF) meeting held at Police Hall in Mzuzu which was organized by National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) as part of preparations for the voter registration exercise which commences in Mzuzu City and Mzimba this Saturday, the stakeholders from the faith community, the law enforcers and other independent bodies could not concretely agree on the definition of a political handout.
This took place soon after Malawi Electoral Commission’s District Elections Clerk Demeria Rocha explained that during this elections period MEC would strongly fight against the practice of issuing of handouts during the campaign period , a trend that has characterized previous elections. Said Rocha:
“As MEC we are trying to fight to have politicians stop issuing handouts and am sure we will achieve a handout-free campaign and elections period. Therefore let us all deliver the message of no handouts.”
However, the confusion came as the members of the DAF sought more clarity on the definition of handouts as well as the detailed interpretation of the Political Parties Act.
Station officer for Mzuzu Police Almakio Daka explained that despite the lack of adequate awareness of the Political Parties Law, issuing handouts during campaigns was still a crime.
“Handouts are a crime. It is difficult to know that it is a handout by definition. However, let us still continue to spread the message,” said Daka.
And Anna Sichinga, a representative of the community of Mzuzu in the DAF called on the responsible stakeholders to create more awareness on the Law.
“There is need for more awareness on what the Law says and how we can know a handout from a gift. With time, this practice can be reduced,” said Sichinga.
The Mzuzu City and Mzimba North DAF is lead by Inkosi Mperembe and constitutes representatives from different Government agencies such as the Mzuzu City Council, The District Education Manager’s office, Police, as well as non-state actors such as members of the faith community.
Since its passing into Law in December and assenting to in February of 2018, the Law has been hailed by activists as a Legislation which could assist in promoting voting which is motivated by issue-based politics rather than handouts. However, the Law is yet to be enforced by the Ministry of Justice.
Article 41 (1) of the Political Parties Law stipulates that candidates or political parties found to be issuing handouts in their journey of contesting for elections are liable to a fine of MK 10 million Kwacha or five years imprisonment. The new Law also regulates the registration, financing and functioning of political parties in Malawi.