As Malawi gears for the start of the Official Campaign period from March 19, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has cautioned political parties in the country to campaign within the confines of all electoral laws including the new Political Parties Law which bans giving of handouts to secure votes.
This will be the first election since the start of the multi-party era where political parties in the Country will be campaigning without enticing voters with donations of cash, food and other essential items as the practice is now banned under the new law.
MEC Commissioner Linda Kunje made the remarks at Katoto Secondary School in Mzuzu during an interface meeting with political aspirants at the opening of the Vetting of Ballot Paper templates exercise by candidates in preparation for the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
“The official campaign period starts from March 19 to May 19. This time, we will have the new Political Parties Law which stops hand-outs. Please send the message to all your supporters so that should you find yourself on the wrong side of the Law, you should not say hat you did not know.
“Get hold of the Law and read it and familiarize yourself with this and also the other electoral Laws in place and that is why, today, we are giving you the Malawi Electoral Laws,” Kunje said.
The vetting meeting revealed that there is still a wide knowledge gap among political parties and candidates on exactly what they will be allowed to offer their supporters during the Official Campaign period without crossing the confines of the Political Parties Law.
However, Commissioner Kunje explained that politicians will be allowed to give political party branded clothing to their supporters even under the Political Parties Law.
The meeting was also attended by MEC Commissioner Reverend Clifford Baloyi. The Commissioners took turns responding to questions from aspiring Members of Parliament and Councillors for Mzimba West, Mzimba North East, Mzimba North and Mzuzu City Constituencies.
In his speech, Commissioner Clifford Baloyi, responded to a question from Mercy Mbezuma Mfune, a shadow MP for Mzuzu City on whether politicians could offer assistance towards purchase of coffins and transport logistics at funerals of their constituents as has been the norm by political aspirants in the past.
Baloyi explained that candidates who donate items including cash or coffins at funerals are still at risk of being penalized by the new law if they also ask people to vote for them at the same event.
“It can be a crime [to give assistance at funerals] depending on the motive that you have. If you say that I am buying a coffin so that you vote for me, that is a crime. It is the responsibility of every citizen to read and familiarize themselves with any new Law, so there is no way you can accuse MEC,” said Baloyi.
“Anything given to people to vote for them is a handout. But when you give people food or transport when they have travelled, that is not a handout, you are paying for a service,” Baloyi explained.
According to Malawi’s Political Parties Law, candidates or political parties that give handouts to solicit votes are liable to a fine of K 10 million or five years imprisonment. Human rights activists say that the Political Parties law which came into effect on December 1, 2018 could redefine Malawi politics from a culture of handouts to an issue-based politics approach. The experts argue that this Law will also level the playing field for women and other marginalized groups in Malawi to take up political spaces.
Meanwhile, candidates in Mzuzu City and Mzimba have expressed satisfaction with the smooth and fast conduct of the Vetting exercise.
Kamuzu Chibambo, shadow MP on PETRA ticket in Mzimba North East said: “The vetting has gone OK, we just needed to address a few issues and that has been taken care of.”
The Official Campaign period, which runs from March 19 to 06:00 on May 19, is the next big moment in the 2019 Tripartite Election’s Stakeholder Calendar. MEC is expected to commence the Official Campaigns with an electoral stakeholder’s meeting.