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Conflicts spoil Malawi journalists’ AGM, election postponed

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PERHAPS for the first time ever, the elective Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter was yesterday marred by speculation of foreign players brought in to vote for new Misa-Malawi Executive Committee.

As time for voting for new office bearers of MisaMalawi Executive Committee approached, there was some disenchantment among some prospective voters who claimed that the process was not free and fair.

Such claims and observations were repeated when those responsible for the elections announced that finally the polls were to be held.

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The bone of contention was the eligibility of voters, with some arguing that those who are still students in various media training institutions should not vote. Others proposed that those willing to vote should produce Identity Cards (IDs) or any sort of evidence that they were affiliated to any media house in the country.

However, it was not clear how those who contribute for international media platforms would be treated.

The disagreements compelled current MisaMalawi Chairperson, Thom Khanje, to announce that the polls had been suspended for a while to allow MisaMalawi’s Governing Council to map the way forward.

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About 10 minutes later, Khanje announced that the council had decided that the polls should be postponed to a later date. He indicated that the period within which the election was supposed to be held had elapsed such that they did not want other events to be disturbed.

“We are going to consult our legal counsel on how the whole issue can be resolved. It has to be noted that the current executive committee’s mandate ends in December this year, so there still is some time during which a proper decision can be made in relation with our Constitution,” Khanje said.

Both competitors for the position of chairperson, Frank Phiri and Teresa Ndanga, said they had expected a free and fair election and that it was unfortunate that the polls had been called off.

One of the prospective voters, Dumbani Mzale, said it was not fair that people had travelled from different parts  of the country to elect their new leaders only to be told that the polls would not be held.

Mzale urged those responsible to ensure that all mechanisms for a free and fair election are put in place in advance so that there is no “unnecessary waste of resources”

“People planned for this election and they had to travel from different parts of the election. It is unfortunate that it has been called off. It is always important that proper mechanisms of ensuring a free and fair election are put in place, otherwise we are sending a very wrong signal,” said Mzale.

The polls were supposed to be part of the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) celebrations. The polls have created temporary divisions in the media fraternity before but never have they been postponed because of disagreements on the eligibility of voters.

This year’s WPFD is being celebrated under the theme ‘Critical minds for critical times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive society’.

The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 WPFD to raise awareness on the importance of the press and remind governments their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedoms of expression.

 

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