May 20 is just a few blocks away before eligible Malawians and resident foreign nationals will cast their votes in the first ever tripartite elections. Yes- this type of an election is the first one of its kind in Malawi whereby office bearers in ward councils, members of parliament for each of the 193 constituencies and a president will all be voted for (or against) in a single election.
With precision and firm conviction, I will tell you that from today the 30th of January 2014, we have exactly 108 days before we go to the polls on May 20, this very same year. A lot of activities in preparation for the big day are taking place on the ground. For instance, political parties have started conducting primary elections that will help to decide who will represent them on a particular hot seat. Very soon, the whistle will be blown for the race to begging. Serious campaigning will then raise the tempo and the political atmospheric pressure in Malawi.
Likewise, all registered voters should also tighten their seat belts and make sure that they are attending political campaign rallies in order to make sure that they should vote wisely. Come the 20th May, everyone who will go to cast his or her ballot should be able to make a self assessment to find out who and why they will vote for a particular candidate.
The campaign period is normally a time whereby MPs who never visited their constituencies will start staying/camping right in the villages they shunned some years ago. They behave like hunters or fishermen as they use so many irresistible baits to catch the attention and support of innocent and poverty stricken villagers. This is the time whereby some unprincipled politicians become men and women of the people. They leave their shockingly expensive luxury cars and start walking on foot, eating from the same plate with villagers and they carry themselves in very different demeanors quite different from their usual selves. For them, it is a time to obtain ‘poached eggs under false pretenses’.
In terms of material handouts, people receive blankets, soap, flour, money etc just to buy the votes of innocent people. This is also a time aspirants spend huge sums of money to construct bridges, complete construction of school blocks that were abandoned due to lack of construction materials and some even reach the point of funding church building projects.
This is where the trick lies, once they have been voted by the unsuspicious constituents, all the good things go away with them to the capital city. This is a cancer that stagnates and slowly kills people’s development needs and aspirations.
Thus, the bad choices that people make in an election stay and torment them for five years. This is the reason why Youth Net and Counseling (YONECO) with support from National Democratic Institute is advocating for issue based voting. This is a move away from a scenario whereby people were voting for contestants who were giving them handouts to voting for a contender who shows that he/she has the welfare of people at heart.
Voting for a candidate who was offering money, clothes or food stuffs during campaign rallies has always been a usual feature in the previous elections that Malawi has held. The aftermath of it has always been very disastrous to the development and welfare of the electorate.
Thus, issue based voting will help the electorate and the aspiring contenders to talk about matters that really need to be addressed in their wards. The aspirants are also supposed to produce comprehensive manifestos and before casting the ballots, the electorate will know if and how a particular aspirant will address certain developmental issues once in power. The aspirants will then make a pact with the electorate by signing a social contract in accordance to what a particular aspirant promises to do once they vote for him or her.
It is a waste of an opportunity to vote for a contestant simply because he or she clothed or fed you once or twice during the campaign period- How are your other everyday needs be met? Identify issues that need to be addressed in your area and then find out whether your aspirants will address them (and how) or not.
Vote for contenders whose manifestos are clear and in accordance to the needs of the people!