August 26, 2010

Women candidates hit hard by election postponement

News that Malawi's November local government elections are to be postponed yet again has hit female candidates hard - and mostly in their pockets. And it could mean that the country will have less female candidates to vote for when they finally go to the polls.
Many women candidates feel short-changed with the decision by the Malawi Election Commission (MEC) to postpone the Nov. 23 elections. On Aug. 23 the MEC announced the elections will now be held on Apr. 20, 2011.

According to the MEC's spokesman Richard Mveriwa, the elections had to be postponed after the electoral body realised that it would have challenges meeting the calendar of events for the elections. He also disclosed that a new draft calendar indicates that the official campaign for next year's election will start on February 18 and end on April 18, 2011. "The electoral calendar is still being worked on and will be sent to the president so that he sets the date," said Mveriwa.

But women candidates, just like their male contenders, have already started campaigning and spent money buying handouts for voters. In Malawi election campaigns are expensive; most potential voters expect candidates to give them handouts, such as T-Shirts, cloth, food items and even money during campaign rallies and door-to-door campaigning. The freebies are seen as a sign of 'compassion' and are an unofficial requirement when contesting elections in Malawi. Some female candidates have even invested their life savings into their campaigns and many fear they will not have the funds to continue until 2011.

But the postponement should come as no surprise as local polls in Malawi have been continually postponed for a decade since 2000. Since the country attained democracy in 1994, Malawi has conducted local government elections only once in 2000.
Until it was changed in Dec. 2009, the country's Constitution had prescribed that under Section 147, the local polls would take place in the third week of May in the year following the national general elections. Ideally, the first local government elections were to be held in May 1995 a year after Malawi ushered in democracy. But this failed to happen until 2000. The local elections also failed to take place in 2005 and the country has had no elections since then.

Though in Dec. 2009, the country's Parliament, amended Section 147 of the Constitution and gave President Bingu wa Mutharika the power of deciding when the local elections will be held. (IPS)

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