As the Malawi May 21 polls draws closer, there is palpable excitement with campaign rallies held daily as the poll will see the election of a president, members of parliament and local government councilors.
There are eight candidates in the country’s presidential race: Lazarus Chakwera – Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Peter Mutharika – Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Atupele Muluzi – United Democratic Front (UDF), Saulos Chilima, – United Transformation Movement (UTM), John Chisi (Umodzi Party) – Cassim Chilumpha (Tikonze People’s Movement, Reverend Kaliya (Independent), Peter Kuwani Mbakuwaku – Movement for Development (MMD).
Although one candidate (Joyce Banda of the People’s Party) withdrew from the race in Marchnand decided to support the MCP candidate Chakwera.
A total of 1,331 candidates are contesting 193 parliamentary seats.
Malawi has more than 50 registered political parties, only 13 are fielding parliamentary candidates in the elections. Four parties (DPP, MCP, UDF and UTM) are each fielding more than 100 parliamentary candidates.
The People’s Party (PP) will field 81 parliamentary candidates while three political parties (People’s Transformation Movement, MMD and National Salvation Front are each fielding only one parliamentary candidate.
Another 501 candidates, representing nearly 38% of the parliamentary contestants, are standing on independent platforms. In terms of gender, only 313 parliamentary candidates are women, representing just under 24% of the total.
The 2019 elections are going to be the first to be held under a new Political Parties (registration and regulation) Act which came into force in December 2018.
Among many issues, this law introduces several clauses aimed at regulating the funding of political parties, including a requirement that parties should declare all funds exceeding K1-million (approximately US$1,398) from individuals and K2-million (approximately $2,796) from companies.
According to The Herald, the law also bans the practice of giving handouts during election campaigns and sets out a new criterion for registering and deregistering political parties.
This includes a clause that states that parties that fail to win at least two seats in parliamentary elections or at least five percent of national votes for parliamentary elections in two successive elections should be deregistered.
Given that more than 40 political parties are not fielding candidates in the 2019 elections, there is a very high likelihood that after the next elections in 2024, the country will see the deregistration of many parties.
In the heat of the election campaigns, several political parties have attempted to build coalitions and alliances.
A grouping of small political parties, for example, agreed to field one joint candidate, Cassim Chilumpha, under the banner of Tikonze People’s Movement.
The UTM Party, led by incumbent state Vice President Saulos Chilima, entered a short-lived alliance with the People’s Party of former president Joyce Banda, which unravelled after barely three days.
The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) meanwhile, has entered into an alliance with Khumbo Kachali of the Freedom Party.
After her short-lived alliance with UTM, Joyce Banda withdrew from the presidential race in March 2019 and endorsed Lazarus Chakwera of the MCP.
For its part, the ruling DPP entered into an electoral pact with the Democratic People’s Congress. However, it is unlikely that this alliance will yield much as the party is fielding only 13 parliamentary candidates, report states.