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Elections postponed to June

The much awaited Parliamentary and Presidential elections may not be held on May 18 as stipulated by law because the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is contemplating shifting the dates to an undisclosed date in June. Information indicate that the Commission is under pressure to shift the polling day and one of the reasons given will be that it has a deficit of about US $ 14 million which is equivalent to K1.4 billion to run the elections. Indicators are that the Commission is going to request more funding from donors to meet the shortfall. It is not yet known where all the carefully worked out donor funding for elections have gone with many alleging that the moneys have been diverted so that there is some spending on rigging strategies with the ruling UDF. MEC proposed a budget of MK25 billion from donors to run the elections but donors refused to meet the amount and made available only MK14 billion after a trimming of the budget. This was done to remove superfluous components in the proposal which were deemed unnecessary and highly inflated. It has been learnt that the Commission demanded huge sums running in the millions for transport expenses during the election process. In the 1999 elections, the government convened an extraordinary session of parliament to shift the date of the election back. A notice to this effect is expected to come from parliament soon, recalling parliamentarians whose mandate has just been removed by the desolation of the House on the 20th March.

In the meantime, Malawian civil society has drawn up a manifesto to "guide" people towards an issue-based general election. The manifesto, drawn up by the Malawian Economic Justice Network (MEJN), which has a membership of about 100 civic organisations, urged the next government to expand the employment sector, desist from liberalising the education and health sectors, prioritise social spending and develop the agricultural sector. "The last two elections, held in 1994 and 1999 under the multiparty system, have tended to focus on personalities. People have also voted along regional and tribal lines. We want the people to focus on socioeconomic issues and ideologies in choosing and, thereafter, supporting and assessing their government," Mavuto Bamusi, deputy national coordinator of MEJN said. According to him, the network also wanted to provide Malawians with the "tools to realistically evaluate the performance of the government of the day".

The manifesto cited a 1998 household survey, which revealed that 65.3 percent of the population could not afford two square meals per day all year long. It also quoted a 2001 United Nations Development Programme report that described Malawi as the third worst country in the whole world in terms of income inequality. "We are one of the poorest countries in the world, with the biggest gap between the rich and the poor. Any incoming government should focus on socioeconomic issues," Bamusi said.

"There has been increased dependency on imported maize because there are no incentives for local producers to increase their production. The disincentives are so many, including: prices too low for them to recoup their production costs, high cost of inputs (fertiliser), lack of markets for agricultural outputs, unstable exchange rate, high cost of borrowing (interest rates), lack of credit facilities, unequal distribution of land, and poor rural roads," the manifesto read. The statement urged the next government to mechanize agriculture by introducing modern farming technology to both small- and large-scale farmers; to manage national food reserves in a more efficient manner; promote agricultural diversification from maize to other cash and food crops, such as potatoes and cassava, and provide market incentives for agricultural produce.

MEJN expected its manifesto to reach out to at least 20 percent of Malawi's population through its members, which also include trade unions. Its coalition of civil society organisations came up with the manifesto with financial support of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA). (The Chronicle Newspaper, Lilongwe)

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