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  • Christine Chumbler
    Feature: Malawi-Elections Voting Pattern Change, a New Hitch for Illiterate Voters Africa News Service 05-JUN-99 BLANTYRE, Malawi (PANA, 06/05/99) - Civil
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 7, 1999
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      Feature: Malawi-Elections Voting
      Pattern Change, a New Hitch for
      Illiterate Voters

      Africa News Service

      BLANTYRE, Malawi (PANA, 06/05/99) - Civil rights groups and political
      parties in Malawi have expressed fears that many people will not vote properly
      in the 15 June general elections because of illiteracy, estimated to be above 60

      This comes in the wake of a decision by the Malawi Electoral Commission that
      illiterate voters will not be allowed to use thumb prints as has been the case
      during the previous elections.

      The Commission's Flora Chirwa says that, this time around, voters will
      exclusively be required to mark in the blank space next to the prefered
      candidate(s) of their choice on the ballot paper.

      "We have tried the thumb-printing and we have found that this will in fact
      increase the null and void votes since the ink spreads all over the paper and it
      will make it difficult to determine who one has voted for," she said.

      But this creates problems for the majority, as only about 40 percent of the
      impoverished southern African state's 10 million-plus people can read and write,
      according to the United Nations Development Programme.

      The spectre that the illiterate voters will have difficulties in holding writing
      material was raised by non-governmental organisations involved in voter
      education programmes. This has made the Commission to somehow relax the
      voting procedure.

      "Voters will now not be restricted to making a mark in the specified space on the
      ballot paper," says Roosevelt Gondwe, the Commision's Chief Elections Officer.
      "They will be free to make any kind of mark on the provided space -either on
      the picture of the person they want to vote for, on the symbol of his or her party
      or on the blank space next to the symbol."

      The NGOs participating in voter education had discovered that the high illiteracy
      rate will effectively disenfranchise most voter since their votes will not be

      After the discovery, some actors to come up with some rather radical
      suggestions. Joh Unandi Banda, vice president of the Malawi Democratic Party
      (MDP), says the Commission should allow voters to use even charcoal to make
      their mark.

      "I mean, everyone of us have grown up with charcoal so we definetely know
      how to handle it," he says.

      The Commission dismisses that suggestion but, says Gondwe, the answer lies in
      both the NGOs and political parties intensifying voter education.

      He says the Commission settled for this method following survey conducted
      elsewhere which showed that there are fewer null and void votes when voters
      put a mark on the ballot paper than by thumb-printing.

      "So far the NGOs are doing a good job but they need to do mor because there
      are still a lot of people who are not yet aware of how they wil vote on June 15,"
      he says.

      But Bertha Sefu, Programme Officer for the Church-NGO Consortium which
      groups the Catholic church's Commission for Justice and Peace an three civil
      rights NGOs, thinks time is not on their side.

      "I am afraid we will have a lot of null and void votes on the polling day since
      most people will not be able to make correct marks," she says.

      Sefu says the voting procedure appears too complicated especially to those who have never been to school.

      Her organisation, armed with about 1.8 million US dollars (7 million Malawi)
      funding from various donors, has since deployed 8,104 voter educators all over
      the country. But her worry is that there is little time.

      The Commission has defended itself, saying the problem was that the NGOs
      were wasting time with trivial workshops while ignoring the main task of civic

      The Church/NGO consortium chair Shyley Kondowe admits voter education
      started a bit too late but pushes the blame back to the Electoral Commission
      which he said did no release sample ballot papers in good time.

      The Malawian electoral process has been fraught by a number of problems,
      chief among them the chaotic registration process which cost the Commission it
      first chair, High Court judge Justice William Hanjahanja, who resigned ostensibly
      on health grounds amid a flurry of calls for his head by the disgruntled civil
      society and opposition parties.

      The Commission blames the chaotic process on its failure to procure registration
      materials early enough. This derailed the whole electoral calender and resulted in
      a constitutional crisis that obliged President Bakili Muluzi to convene Parliament
      to amend the Constitution to allow for a further extension in the elections to 15

      Felix Mviha, coordinator for one of the NGOs involved in civic education,
      National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE), says there is need for all
      stakeholders to cooperate in the electoral process if the election is to be a

      Save for the hitches in voter education, he is confident everything else will be in
      order by the polling day.

      "We have already moved most of the polling materials to pollin centres," he says,
      adding that everything is being done to make sure "everyone is schooled on the
      procedure before the polling day."

      But the free-for-all civic education is creating another problem. Some political
      parties, including President Muluzi's ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) have
      been accussed of expressly educating voters to vote for them in the guise of civic

      The Commision's Gondwe expressed anger earlier last week that the UDF was
      circulating fake ballot papers while UDF parliamentary hopeful Mekki Mtewa
      told the press he has confiscated a ploy by the opposition alliance to trick the
      illiterate into voting for them.

      And so the mist continues to surround the Malawian electoral process, barely
      ten days before polling day.


      Malawi-Television MALAWI'S
      Baby TV Spreads Tentacles

      Africa News Service

      BLANTYRE, Malawi (PANA, 06/04/99) - Television Malawi, which went on
      air about two months ago in selected urban areas - Blantyre, Lilongwe, Zomba
      and Mzuzu - will from next week start beaming to most parts of Malawi,
      following the installation of new transmitting stations in strategic places across the

      "Everything is ready. Right now power is being connected and by sometime next
      week we will have pictures in most homes," Benson Tembo, the television's
      project coordinator, told PANA.

      Viewers of the baby television complain that in some instances they are able to
      receive pictures without sound or vice versa.

      Tembo, a veteran radio broadcaster who left the state-run Malawi Broadcasting
      Corporation as deputy general manager to head the nascent TV project, said
      viewers should install what he termed PAR B/G sets to tune to the station
      instead of the PAR I or J sets commonly in use as they are not compatible to the
      digital equipment used by Television Malawi.

      The television is on air from 1800 to 2015 gmt.

      Critics say the station lacks local content in its programming, except for a
      10-minute news bulletin and a 30-minute local music splash. Everything else
      beamed on the network is imported from outside.

      Tembo defended this, saying Malawians were expecting too much, too soon
      from the station.

      "Give us time; we have already done a lot. Our friends (the Namibians who did
      most of the training) said we will not be able to go live on football matches, news
      bulletins and air presidential rallies. Mind you these are professionals and we
      have proved otherwise," he said.

      Most of the station's crew got training at the Namibian Broadcasting
      Corporation while a few others, especially technicians and producers, got some
      additional training in France, Germany and Taiwan.

      The Namibians oversaw the launch 29 March and provided hands-on for three

      Currently, Television Malawi is wholly-manned by Malawians although,
      according to Tembo, "experts will be coming in to polish here and there from
      time to time."

      He was optimistic the station will shed its teething problems very soon and will
      also add more hours to the two hours it is currently beaming.
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