By Jameson Chauluka:
Civil society organisation (CSO) and political commentator have questioned the practice of blindfolding candidates and having electorates lining up behind them during primary elections, saying such a voting system is demeaning and breeds chaos.
In view of this, National Elections Systems Trust (Nest)—one of the stakeholders in the May 21 Tripartite Elections—has proposed a secret ballot in party primary elections as a way of dealing with challenges facing the process.
Nest Executive Director, Unandi Banda, said using secret ballots would bring sanity to the primaries and end corruption.
“This thing of having delegates standing behind a shadow MP and a Councilor is demeaning and brings chaos. It is easy for people to be bought and change sides while standing behind their candidates. In fact, women are hugely affected by the system,” he said.
Chancellor College political scientist, Ernest Thindwa, said the system of blindfolding candidates, making their voters physically rally behind them is archaic and degrading.
“Seriously, the parties can do better than blindfolding candidates during primaries. That is archaic and degrading not only to the candidates but even to the voters and the entire democracy in the country,” he said.
But Thindwa said introducing a secret ballot is not the only solution to the problems facing primary elections, saying there is need for parties to increase their capacities in handling internal electoral processes.
Debate over the voting system has started amid controversies in Malawi Congress Party (MCP) primary elections.
MCP primary elections have produced disputed results in Lilongwe Mapuyu South where Edward Chileka Banda floored Joseph Njobvuyalema while Nancy Tembo disputes the outcome of primary elections in Lilongwe South West Constituency where Rhino Chiphiko was declared the winner.
The primary elections were also suspended in Juliana Lunguzi’s Dedza East and Jessie Kabwila’s Salima North West constituencies over identification of voters and security concerns.
But MCP spokesperson, Reverend Maurice Munthali, defended the current system.
“The system is not entirely bad. It has been used for a long time and has been producing good results. As a party, we have seen the challenges but this is a learning process. If members of the party want us to change, then we will [do so] because we do not want few leaders imposing anything on the matter,” he said.
MCP is the only political party that is holding primary elections in preparation for the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Kasungu West Member of Parliament, Alex Major, who recently lost in MCP primary elections, said the system of blindfolding candidates is fine but parties must put in place mechanisms to scrutinise candidates and voters.
Malawi Electoral Commission spokesperson, Sangwani Mwafulirwa, said there was nothing they can do on matters that concern political parties’ internal electoral processes.
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