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‘Cases of wasted votes worrisome’

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By Richard Chirombo:

Something could be wrong with voter civic education in Malawi as, after turning the corner, in terms of reducing the number of null and void votes in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, Malawi is back to square one.

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This is because the number of null and void votes in the May 21 parliamentary election was at 103,174. This was after 5,070,948 voted, despite 6,827,383 people registering to vote in 192 constituencies.

In the May 20 2014 parliamentary election, 5,234,506 votes were cast, representing 70.07 percent of registered voters. Of these votes, 74,634 votes, or 1.43 percent, were deemed null and void.

This means, considering that the difference between the number of voters in the May 20 2014 parliamentary election and the May 21 2019 parliamentary election is 163,558, “the country is making no progress when it comes to reducing the number of null and void votes”, according to Mtendere Elections Support Network spokesperson Edward Chaka.

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“Maybe this is because development partners were not vibrant in funding civic education campaigns. Save for National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Public Trust and Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec), there were handful non-State actors involved in voter civic education.

“That said, increasing cases of null and void votes should give us food for thought. It is not good that a significant number of votes should go to waste. Cases of null and void votes are worrisome and we must put in place mechanisms to avoid this,” Chaka said.

In 2014, after the parliamentary election, the then Mec chairperson, Maxon Mbendera, described the number of null and void votes as “low”.

“The level of null and void votes across all races was historically low for Malawi. Let me assure all voters that your commission has done its best to act inclusively,” he said.

Before this year’s tripartite elections, Nice Executive Director, Ollen Mwalubunju, said his organisation had sensitised people to election issues, including the need to vote properly to avoid cases of null and void votes.

“The voter education exercise has been a success. The voter education exercise went well and Malawians are thoroughly equipped with knowledge on how to vote, which will result in a decrease in null and void votes.

“We have disseminated information through various platforms nationwide. It is now up to people to choose a leader of their choice,” he said.

Nice conducted voter civic education in collaboration with Mec and the European Union.

But, it seems, this did little to make the 2019 parliamentary election null-and-void-votes free.

For instance, Zomba Thondwe Constituency has registered 368 null and void votes, with Zomba Changalume registering 267 cases, Zomba Chingale 218, Chiradzulu North 202, Chiradzulu West 62, Blantyre Malabada 273, Blantyre North 393, Dowa North 154, Dowa Ngala 489, Chitipa South 250, Chitipa East 96, Mchinji South 481, among others.

Mec Chairperson, Justice Jane Ansah, Monday said the number of null and void votes in the presidential election was at 1.9 percent.

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