What constitutes a handout?; Mchinji aspirants ask

Campaign material not handout

By Emmie Banda, MEC Stringer

Mchinji women aspirants have called upon all civil society organizations to civic educate the populace on the new Political Parties Act, which bans giving out handouts to entice voters so that people should know what it is all about.

This came out during a meeting organized by 50-50 campaign management agency was aimed at planning on how best they are going to conduct their campaign with the female aspirants.

The women said since the law did not say what are handouts, this needs to be well understood by the electorate to avoid creating misunderstandings amongst the people.

A fully dressed political rally

One of the female aspirants, Agnes Mkusa Nkhoma — who is contesting as Malawi Congress Party candidate Mchinji South constituency, said this law is very tricky and needs to be fully understood.

“We really need to know what a handout is to differentiate it to giving out campaign materials. People will not be differentiating between an incentive and a handout,” Mkusa Nkhoma said.

This will be the first election since the start of the multi party era where political parties will be asked by law to campaign without enticing voters with donations of cash, food and other essential items.

However, there is still a wide knowledge gap among political parties and candidates on exactly what they will be allowed to offer their supporters during the official campaign period without crossing the confines of the Political Parties Law.

A gathering of women aspirants

Earlier this month, at an interface meeting with political aspirants at the opening of the Vetting of Ballot Paper templates in Mzuzu, MEC Commissioner Linda Kunje explained that politicians will be allowed to give political party-branded clothing to their supporters which is also explained under the Political Parties Law.

In their response to a question from aspiring contestant for Mzuzu City, Mercy Mbezuma Mfune on whether politicians could  offer assistance  towards purchase of coffins and transport logistics at funerals of their constituents as has been the norm by political aspirants  in the past, MEC explained that candidates  who donate items including cash or coffins at funerals are still at risk of being penalized by the new law if they also ask that their contributions be publicly known and also ask people to vote for them at the same event.

A woman aspirant

“It can be a crime [to give assistance at funerals] depending on the motive that you have. If you say that I am buying a coffin so that you vote for me, that is a crime.

“Anything given to people to vote for them is a handout.  But when you give people food or transport when they have travelled, that is not a handout, you are paying for a service,” Commissioner Reverend Clifford Baloyi had explained.

According to Malawi’s Political Parties Law,  candidates or political parties  that are found guilty of giving handouts to solicit votes  are liable to a fine of K10 million  or five years imprisonment.  

Human rights activists say that the law, which came into effect on December 1, 2018, could redefine Malawi politics from a culture of handouts to an issue-based politics approach.  

The experts argue that this law will also level the playing field for women and other marginalized groups in Malawi to take up political spaces.

Chawezi Tembo, the 50-50 campaign management agency monitoring and evaluation manager, said he believes that what the Mchinji female aspirants have been taught  will help them during the campaign period.

“We have done our part, we have leveled the ground so that come May 21 all the female aspirants should win,” he said. “Through our donor partners have tried to support them by reimbursing nomination fees and the process is still continuing.

“We saw it fit to reimbursing nomination fees to encourage the contesting women and we have achieved that by having 304  women aspiring as members of parliament and 573 aspiring as councilors across the nation.

“We are still working with them so that we can convert these figures into real decision making positions both at national and local assembly,” said Tembo.

He therefore advised the aspirants who have not yet provided them with their bank accounts or their phone numbers to do so, so that they can reimburse their money through Airtel Money and TNM Mpamba accounts.