Finally, we have decided to consolidate the gains that stemmed from the landmark ruling by the Constitutional Court in February 2020 which nullified the May 2019 presidential election. Parliament this week endorsed the 50+1 law which requires that winner of a presidential election should amass over 50 percent of the votes cast.
The good side of this is that there would be no chewu-chewu on the part of the leaders (they would be at peace when governing), knowing fully well that their reign has the backing of the majority of those that cared to cast their votes.
Data made available online by Electoral Institute for Sustainable Development which was compiled by the Malawi Electoral Commission shows that during the 2014 presidential elections former president Peter Mutharika got 1,904,399 which was 36.40 percent of the total votes cast while the current president Lazarus Chakwera that time obtained 1,455,880, representing 27.80 percent of the votes and Joyce Banda in 1,056,236 which was 20.20 percent of the total votes.
In the nullified 2019 presidential poll, Mutharika had obtained 39 percent while Chakwera got 35 percent of the total votes cast and Chilima pulled in 20 percent.
It was only when we saw parties teaming up for alliances that Chakwera, with Chilima as his running mate, managed to get 2,604,043 which was 59.34 percent of the votes cast whereas Mutharika, who had teamed up with Atupele Muluzi as his running mate, pulled 1,751,877 votes, which was 39.92 percent of total votes cast.
You can therefore tell from the above that political leaders have largely thrived due to the first-past-the-post system which the country has followed for years whenever we go to the polls.
Already, I can see some of the political parties and their leaders sweating profusely, knowing fully well that it will not be a stroll in the park if any of them is to attain the prescribed 50+1 requirement, especially should they dare attempt to do it on their own.
Take, for instance, the happenings in the Tonse Alliance, which many had from the outset branded a ‘marriage of convenience’. Two of the top partners, Malawi Congress Party and UTM, have for a while now not been seeing eye to eye, save for the understanding at the very top between Chakwera and Chilima, who of course have also had their rough moments. Similarly, not much has been said or can be written of the remaining seven other parties in this affairs, I presume they opted to be ‘sleeping partners’ though now and again one of them would raise a voice for allegedly not having a voice.
Let us now turn our attention to the opposition side where once upon a time, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP0 had an alliance with the United Democratic Front (UDF). Since they were trounced at the polls, the two sides have each seemingly been working in isolation unless if they deliberately decided to keep their relationship out of the limelight.
All this goes to show that it is still a big ask for one to get over 50 percent of the votes cast, which is quite surprising for a country that has a population which now hovers around 20 million and with over 45 political parties.
I somehow found merit in the suggestions by a number of legislators that perhaps it is high time we considered having legally recognised constituency tally centres. This, perhaps, could be our answer to eliminating foreign objects that were witnessed during the nullified 2019 elections such as tippex which created challenges in tabulation of results, especially from Form 60 to Form 66. It shows that we are thinking progressively.
But, maybe, this could be the very reason why others were skeptical. Since most of the ‘tampering’ challenges were noted or experienced at the constituency level, would it not be a way of endorsing such mediocrity once the structures are legally recognised? Perhaps we should firstly work out how best we can strengthen the available structures at constituency or district level when it comes to security features and then we worry about Constituency Tally Centres.
All in all, I am glad that we have reviewed, and made amendments where necessary, the country’s electoral laws. This, I hope, will eliminate some of the bottlenecks synonymous with the polls and most importantly, the courts would not be saddled anymore with the task of making determinations unless it is really necessary. But make no mistake: It will be a long walk to the ballot for presidential election contestants since they have to fulfill the 50+1requirement.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).