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Prisoners feel sidelined from May 21 elections

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By Peter Kanjere

Some inmates at Chichiri Prison have complained that they are unable to access competing political parties’ manifestos and meet candidates ahead of the May 21 Tripartite Elections.

The prisoners complained on Thursday when Centre for Humans Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) Executive Director, Victor Mhango, and his team conducted civic education campaign about the elections at the prison.

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Mhango and CHREAA Monitoring and Evaluation Officer Siphiwe Maliherah had taken turns to sensitise the prisoners that voting was their constitutional right.

The prison has some 1,200 registered voters.

But Francis Tebulo, who is serving a 13-year jail term at the prison, said he had been taking part in voting for two elections but he was still contemplating whether to vote on May 21.

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“I have voted twice but I have never benefitted in any way. The member of Parliament we voted for has never visited us. We still struggle to get food…we do not even have slippers,” said Tebulo who was jailed for the offence of burglary and house-breaking.

Most of the prisoners complained that they hardly have access to news so as to get updates on the elections.

However, Southern Region Prison spokesperson, Julius Magombo, said they ensure that the prisoners have a platform to exercise their right to vote.

Unlike in 2014 when 9,000 prisoners voted, Mhango shared the prisoners’ concern, adding that there might be voter apathy come May 21, saying most human rights organisations such as his have not received adequate funds to conduct voter education campaigns in prisons.

“Not much has happened on the ground. CHREAA was accredited to conduct vote and civic education in all prisons but, because of lack of funds we have scaled down our activities. CHREAA will provide voter and civic education in the Southern Region and Eastern Region only, hoping that Nice [National Initiative for Civic Education] will cover the other prisons.

“In 2014, CHREAA and Nice managed to civic educate prisoners and distributed manifestos to prisoners since political parties are not allowed to campaign. It will be difficult for them to make informed decisions,” Mhango said.

Maherah said they felt obliged to conduct civil education at the prison despite that the non-governmental organisation did not receive funds.

Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) will run the elections in line with the parliamentary, presidential and Local Government Act which restricts politicians from campaigning in prisons.

However, Mec spokesperson, Sangwani Mwafulirwa, said they engaged Prison Drama Group to civic-educate the prisoners.

“Mec engaged the prison drama group to conduct voter education in all prisons across the country and they are doing that,” Mwafulirwa said on Friday.

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