Large political rallies
* Large crowds at campaign rallies potential to be mega spreaders of the virus
* To hold its convention in 2023 in line with the party’s constitution
By Duncan Mlanjira
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is asking the government and the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to consider rescheduling the March 30 by-elections in seven constituencies and two wards, arguing that the large crowds that would be attracted for campaign rallies are potential to be mega spreaders of the COVID-19 virus.
The party says, while remaining confident of defending the constituencies and increasing their representation, they feel that MEC and the government ought to reschedule these by-elections to the time the COVID-19 situation is under control.
“At a time when government is struggling for financial resources to combat this pandemic, it does not make sense that the nation should be spending billions of kwacha on elections when the same could have been utilised to procure medication and equipment to save precious lives.
“The COVID-19 situation is real and is destroying a lot of lives — our way of living and the economy. With more financial resources to fight this pandemic, the nation could very well save a lot of these lives which are being needlessly lost.
“We therefore would like to urge the government to revisit the decision to hold these many by-elections now,” said the party through its spokesperson Brown Mpinganjira.
However, in announcing the by-elections on Thursday, MEC chairperson Justice Dr. Chifundo Kachale, SC assured the public that it will strictly enforce and observe strict COVID-19 preventive measures to protect the electorate and poll workers from contracting or spreading the virus during the by-elections.
At a press briefing in Blantyre, Justice Kachale said the messages on COVID-19 will be a cross-cutting theme in all electoral messages that will be disseminated through loudhailers, radio, television, fliers, and posters among others.
Thus the Commission has:
• Requested the COVID-19 Taskforce to give MEC their platform to share messages through their platforms
• Each centre will have a pail of water for people to wash hands before proceeding to their respective business at a centre
• The Commission is encouraging the electorate to bring their own personal protective equipment (PPEs) like masks, face shields, and hand sanitisers
• Registrants and voters should queue two arms apart. Ushers will be trained to control the queues and ensure that people follow the directions they are given
• Polling staff will be given hand sanitisers, face shields, and masks among other PPEs
• Polling staff are not allowed to touch the voter certificate. Instead, the voter should just hold it out close to the identification clerk to read and verify the details on the certificate
• Where possible, voters are encouraged to bring their own ball point pens for marking on the ballot paper. The Commission will still make available the ball point pens in all ballot booths.
“It is our anticipation that the Commission will enjoy positive support from all parties and stakeholders,” Justice Kachale had said. “We are having to do this work in the context of COVID19, we expect various players to ensure that they play their rightful roles in making sure that both the electorate and candidates adhere to the measures.
“The information we have from the COVID-19 Taskforce indicate that positivity rates have dropped drastically from what they were. We cannot overemphasize therefore the importance of adhering to the preventive measures while also praying that the situation gets better.
“At the height of the pandemic in mid-January, positivity rate was at over 30.4% but now it’s at 17.4% with projections that in the next two weeks it will be at 15.4% and in the next 4 weeks it will be below 10%.
“With the expectation that if that projection is maintained, it will be reasonably safe to undertake the by-elections since when we were conducting by-elections in November last year, it was at hovering around 15%.”
Meanwhile, Mpinganjira announced that at its zoom meeting on Monday and Tuesday, February 15 and 16, the DPP’s Central Committee unanimously resolved to hold its elective convention in 2023.
Mpinganjira quotes Article 10:2 of our Constitution stipulates that the party shall hold its convention every five years of which the last was held in July 2018.
He said the Central Committee noted “with satisfaction the progress being made by the Functional Review Committee which is tasked with the responsibility of collecting views and proposals from the rank and file of the party as well as other stakeholders for the purpose of shaping the Party’s future.