Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) says although its activities have so far been managed uninterrupted, there is a funding gap for the Commission to successfully complete the processes -- that include finalising of constituency and ward boundary review exercise and holding of Local Government by-elections.
In his New Year's message, MEC chairperson Justice Dr. Chifundo Kachale, said they would engage the Government so that there is a provision in the next fiscal year to complete the remaining activities.
The boundary review exercise for both constituencies and wards started last year which is targeted for the 2025 elections that will take into consideration eligible voters that would turn 18 on the day of the elections.
The last undertaking of the review of Constituency and Ward boundary exercise that determined the current 193 seats in Parliament was carried out 13 years ago in 1998 -- failing to meet the country's Constitutional requirement of after every five years.
The last review was in 2008, 10 years after the 1998 exercise but, according to the pollster, it was not approved by Parliament as per Constitutional requirement.
The exercise is very important that after every five years the Commission should make sure that all constituencies are equal in the numbers of voters by accommodating the eligible ones that would turn 18 on the day of the next elections.
In his statement, Justice Kachale said they look forward to this year "with vigour, hope and determination to fulfill what we have planned and what the law mandates us to do".
He thus reported that the Commission conducted meetings in April and May 2021 with electoral stakeholders who included leadership of all active political parties both represented in Parliament and outside, civil society organisations, Members of Parliament, Public Affairs Committee.
It also conducted sensitisation meetings in August and September 2021 in all Councils and issued a call for submissions of views from all stakeholders.
MEC also determined the total number of constituencies for each Council for purposes of 2025 elections in line with the provision of the law under section 76(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi.
"After desk and field work, the boundary review teams came up with preliminary scenarios of constituency boundaries. The Commission conducted meetings at council level where all stakeholders were given an opportunity to give their views.
"The teams have come up with more than one scenario of new ward and constituency boundaries that have been submitted to the Commission for review and quality control before producing preliminary maps."
Kachale further said this review will take place during this month of January 2022 in which it will check if the teams followed the law and guidelines provided, consider representations that the Commission has been and continue to receive from all over the country.
"Here, let me mention and clarify that the Commission will only consider those representations that are backed by the law. I am saying this because we have some representations that clearly show individual (personal) interest.
"Sadly, some have gone to the extent of mobilizing chiefs and deliberately twisting facts to buy sympathy by lying to the chiefs that the Commission has taken away some of their subjects into another chief.
"The Commission has not tampered with any chieftainship boundary and the law does not give the Commission those powers. I would like to repeat that as we stand today, there are no new boundaries confirmed by the Commission.
"The process is still on going until after the display of preliminary maps, getting further representations that are within the law and final reflection by the Commission."
Kachale reiterated that the boundary review process is the foundation for 2025 elections since the Commission "is geared and determined to deliver a credible process whose outcome will be accepted by all stakeholders".
"That aside, stakeholders should be aware that elections are a cycle. Preparations start now and not in the election's year. In this year, 2022 the Commission will develop a calendar and a budget for the 2025 elections.
"The cost of the elections will be spread over three financial year budgets to avoid exerting pressure on the government budget in the election year."
He also reported that there were by-elections in 11 constituencies and five wards in 2021 following the death of the Members of Parliament and councillors elected in 2019 and others due to court nullifications of the 2019 results.
"At the moment there are two vacant wards -- Shire Ward in Balaka and Lupembe Ward in Karonga. The Commission appreciates the need for people to have representation either in the National Assembly or Local Council and that is why it is always our interest to hold by-elections as soon as possible when a vacancy arises.
"For the two wards, the Commission will announce the date when the by-elections will be held once government assurance will be made for funding since by-elections funds for the short fiscal year were depleted.
"It is important that the by-elections are held so that the people have representation in local councils."
The upcoming activities on constituency and ward boundary review for 2022 year are as follows:
a. Review of the boundary scenarios by the Commission from the councils and to choose the preliminary map for each council, as stated earlier, is the next activity in January 2022;
b. Printing of the preliminary maps for each council in January and February 2022;
c. Display and viewing of the preliminary maps in public places including council offices, hospitals, markets and T/A headquarters and other strategic places in February 2022 -- the aim is to offer an opportunity for the public to view how the proposed boundaries will come out like and make representation, if any, that are in line with the law:
d. Public hearings in all the councils to get feedback from all stakeholders on the preliminary maps which will have been displayed in February 2022. The public hearings will take place between April and May 2022. The Commission will also hold targeted meetings with other stakeholders including political parties and civil society organisations between June and July;
e. The feedback from the consultative meetings will be considered by the Commission and incorporated into the first final draft of the boundary review report. Before submission of the report to Parliament, the Commission will hold a meeting with Members of Parliament in July 2022. This will be an opportunity for the Commission to explain, clarify and respond to queries from the MPs regarding the report;
f. The Commission will submit final report to the National Assembly for approval in October 2022.
Expectations from stakeholders regarding boundary review:
The Commission is encouraging all stakeholders to apprise themselves with the provision of the law regarding the boundary review process so as to make informed contributions.
The Commission is open to views from stakeholders at any point in time during the process as long as they are in conformity with the law.
It is by getting views from all stakeholders that the best can be shaped from this boundary review process. The Commission is, therefore, encouraging members of the public to take interest in the process and express their views and opinions.
However, they should participate with keen, sober, and objective interest.
Thus Kachale concluded by expressing gratitude to all electoral stakeholders; political parties, candidates, all registered voters, development partners, traditional and faith leaders, and everyone -- "for their active participation in activities conducted by the Commission in 2021 and specifically during the review of boundaries process".
"As we move in this year 2022, we are optimistic of continued support and collaboration. Together we can achieve a lot that can contribute greatly to the consolidation of our democracy.
"I wish you a successful and a prosperous 2022 May God bless you."