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Mec under fire over nomination fees

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By Yohane Symon:

Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) has come under fire from some electoral stakeholders and the general public for pegging nomination fees for parliamentary and presidential candidates at K500,000 and K2 million, respectively, ahead of the May 21 Tripartite Elections.

The stakeholders have also accused Mec of making the fees non-refundable as opposed to previous general elections when the body used to refund candidates that had amassed a certain percentage of total valid votes cast.

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United Democratic Front (UDF) Publicity Secretary, Ken Ndanga, posting on his Facebook page, wondered why Mec was having candidates pay the fees.

“The electoral commission is not a fundraising body. Malawians, who include the candidates, fund the elections through taxes. Why should candidates pay non-refundable nomination fees? What will Mec do with the nominations fees?” Ndanga queried.

He further said it was prohibitive to ask an aspiring Member of Parliament to pay K500, 000.

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Sharing Ndanga’s sentiments, social and political commentator, Rafiq Hajat, said Mec’s arrangement presents a picture that the body is creating a very substantial alternative revenue stream and in doing so, effectively restricting access to political contestation for the 80 percent of Malawians who earn less than $1 per day.

“This is how a democracy becomes a kleptocratic oligarchy,” he said.

In his contribution to the debate, Malawi Congress Party Secretary General, Eisenhower Mkaka, faulted Mec for the arrangement, saying even in advanced democracies, such fees are refundable upon reaching a certain threshold.

In a separate interview, UDF Secretary General, Kandi Padambo, said similar complaints were raised to Mec through Multiparty Liaison Committee.

“Mec told us that the amount is reflective of how things are now. They said they cannot make the money refundable because the law demands that the fees should be non-refundable such that Mec was refunding the fees in previous elections as a way of promoting democracy,” he said.

However, some sections of society believe that the fees are good as they control the number of people who participate in the elections.

Mec publicist, Sangwani Mwafulirwa, Thursday said the issue of the fees is about the laws which Parliament sets to govern elections.

He said such a law demands that a candidate must bring their nomination paper alongside such a fee.

“The same law gives the Malawi Electoral Commission [the mandate] to determine the amount to be paid. Although the law is silent on the need for the commission to consult, the commission took a deliberate step and brought ideas to the political parties before gazetting the current nominations fees,” he said.

Mwafulirwa said the commission cannot adjust the fees at this stage of the electoral calendar because the law requires that the fees should be gazzeted six month before elections.

He said the fees are deposited into Mec bank account and they go into the government’s consolidated fund such that any expenditure is at the discretion of the government and not the commission.

In previous elections, aspiring male MPs used to pay K200,000 and K150,000 for females whereas presidential candidates used to pay K1 million.

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