“We want to assure voters that this will be a secret vote and every vote will be counted. The polling process has strict audit trails and the signed copy of results will be final and cannot be altered,” Harris Potani, Deputy Chief Elections Officer told a panel discussion organised by the Public Relations Society of Malawi (PRSM) in Blantyre.
The panel discussion, themed: “What can make or break Malawi’s democratic image?” was held to promote engagement towards the electoral process and provide a platform to discuss critical issues, PRSM president Lewis Msasa told the audience.
Potani said MEC was on top of the electoral process despite “some elements deliberately misrepresenting facts to confuse the electorate and advance their agenda.”
He said there has been buying and copying of voter certificates “to threaten the voters.”
He said voters who lost their certificates or had had them taken away, should still go to places where they registered and will be allowed to vote.
“There is no machine that will steal your vote.” Egging voters, he said: “Not voting is voting for a bad leader you don’t want. Go and vote to exercise your democratic right.”
One of the panelists, Boniface Dulani, lecturer of Comparative Politics at Chancellor College, told urged Malawians not to fight but be peaceful, saying the differences in political ideologies was “not a big deal.”
“Let us not fight as Malawi will be there forever. Let's love our country, love everybody as we are all Malawians,” Dulani said.
He said Malawians - who are going for the sixth democratic poll on May 21 since the end of one party rule in 1994 - should learn and appreciate the power of the vote.
“Use the vote to reward performers and remove or punish non-performers,” he said.
Dulani, one of the prominent Malawian experts on conducting opinion polls, said Malawi “needs more good and credible opinion polls” to capture views of Malawians.”
He said opinion polls provide benchmarks for both voters and politicians to know where they stand.
“The polls have positive effect. If a candidate is lagging behind, it gives voters the incentive to go and vote, or switch to vote for another candidate.”
Dulani with fellow researchers last year ran an opinion poll which hinted incumbent President Arthur Peter Mutharika would win the presidency.
Chimwemwe Livata, who heads powerful lobby group Women’s Legal Resources (WOLREC), bemoaned women’s low level of political participation, saying Malawi is a patriarch society which belives women should not seek political office.
She said women are even called prostitutes when they enter politics, and married ones have to seek approval from husbands to make a foray into politics “afraid they will lose their marriages.”
Besides, she said women need resources to campaign, which often are not provided by political parties.
“Party policies are not accommodating enough and it will be a shame if those few women on ballot paper are not voted into power.”
Livata drummed support for voters to choose women “so that a woman’s voice is not left out” in the development of the country since more than half of the voters are women.
Mutharika, seeking re-election to finish his two terms and under the DPP flagship, has called the vote as a “watershed” because it will be a vote between continued development under his leadership or a slide back into stagnant development.
Other contenders are Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Saulos Chilima of UTM and Atupele Muluzi of UDF, John Chisi of Umodzi Party, independent Reverend Kaliya and Peter Kuwani of Mbakuwaku Movement for Development (MMD).