- Feature: Malawi-Elections Voting
Pattern Change, a New Hitch for
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
"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
"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,"
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.
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.