Persons with disability rarely attain political positions in Malawi. This relates more to the scenario of persons with disability as candidates contesting for political position than the mere participation as voters.
We, therefore, need to examine the extent to which local politics remains directly accessible to persons with disability in Malawi. In so doing, we need to analyse the context within which persons with disability strive for political inclusion into the local government system, identify and examine factors impeding their participation in local politics.
There are many factors that have contributed to the inadequate representation of persons with disability, some of which being stigmatisation and negative perception regarding their capabilities, lack of resources, including financial and logistical support, required for effective campaign, accessibility challenges relating to the built environment, as well as lack of access to information.
Nevertheless, we are happy to learn that 25 persons with disability have shown interest in contesting for political office in next year’s tripartite elections. Out of the 25, six of them have shown interest in contesting in elections as Members of Parliament while 19 want to contest for the position of ward councillor.
This announcement does not only inspire confidence in us but also speaks a lot about how courageous they are. Many will face architectural and attitudinal barriers, which will slow their movement and limit the places they can visit to campaign.
The inaccessibility of their environment, coupled with the attitudinal and architectural barriers and lack of any welfare system to encourage persons with disability to contest, is likely to affect their chances of winning.
This is why we are calling upon the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) to see to it that voter-friendly materials like braille are produced in time. We also want Mec and political parties to be accommodative and employ sign language experts who could help people with disabilities to contest during primaries in their various localities.
With over 1.4 million people living with disabilities in the country, they really need representation in decision-making positions. More so because, this year, according to Mec, 800 persons with disability are eligible voters.
We do not want a recurrence of problems that marred the 2014 Tripartite Elections. We heard too many sad stories of persons with disabilities being discriminated against. Others were beaten, or threatened not to participate in the voting.
Let us support more persons with disability in political office. Let next year be different and the first step is to accommodate people with disabilities.
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