Blantyre — The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has officially opened the campaign season with a call for political parties to conduct clean and peaceful campaigns in the run up to May 20 elections.
Political violence has begun even before the official campaigning started.
One incident occurred March 16 after a political rally for President Joyce Banda in Thyolo. Supporters of the president's People's Party (PP) and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) were involved in confrontations, leading to several deaths.
The Electoral Commission subsequently decided to open campaigning with a warning to the 11 parties contesting the vote.
"Our message to the political parties is that they should adhere and conduct political campaigns according to the Malawi electoral laws that [among others] prohibit the use of abusive language, defamatory language and violence," said Reverend Emanuel Chikwita Phiri, MEC's commissioner.
The commission, he added, is in league with law enforcement and prepared to deal with any politician who violates elections laws.
"We can do what is known as administrative justice; like a football referee we blow the whistle and we simply tell the one who has violated the laws 'stop doing that.' We have a second stage where we can call them, in front of their peers, 'the name and shame'. There is another step where we can actually stop a candidate from continuing in the electoral process if those violations are continuing," he said.
Several political parties were quick to pledge to abide by the MEC's call for a peaceful campaign period.
Paul Maulidi is the acting secretary general for the ruling People's Party.
"In as far as our supporters are concerned, we have already issued a statement that they should refrain from using inflammatory languages and personalized attacks but they should instead concentrate on wanting to tell the people about what has People's Party got in store for them," said Maulidi.
But the secretary general for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, Jean Kalirani, says she is more concerned about fairness in a campaign where the ruling party has the advantage.
"The main challenge is that we have got one political party with all the resources, which are public resources, but they are being used for campaign. But here we have launched the campaign but nothing has been said about that," said Kalirani.
Kalirani alleges that state media, namely the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), is a tool for the ruling party.
The MEC's civic voter education chairwoman, Nancy Tembo, says this concern is being adequately addressed. She says her committee has already communicated the concerns from opposition parties to the MBC and that the broadcaster has pledge to be impartial and professional in the lead up to the elections.
Campaigning officially ends 48 hours before an estimated 7.5 million eligible voters cast ballots for president, the National Assembly and Councilors.
Several recent high-profile graft scandals are expected to dominate the campaigning.