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by Nduta Waweru, at 08:00 am, December 03, 2018, News

Malawi criminalises handouts for votes ending the age-old election tradition

Photo: Maravi Express

Most political candidates take advantage of the electioneering period to pay out lots of money and gifts to the electorate in a bid to sway their decisions in their favour or against their opponents. Many African countries have tried to stem this habit but only a few have managed to successfully pass a law to criminalise the process.

One of these countries is Malawi, which passed the Political Parties Act that came to effect on December 1, 2018.  The law bans politicians from using cash payments and other incentives to get support ahead of elections in 2019.

Anyone found in contravention of the law will be required to pay up to 10m Kwacha ($835,980.60) or spend five years in jail.

The ban does not affect campaign materials such as posters, leaflets and clothing, according to AP.

The law had been in discussion since 2017 when lawmakers were debating on whether to enforce a partial or full ban.  One faction had proposed banning political handouts during the election period but others wanted a complete ban, whether there are elections or not.

Malawi, which sets to vote in the presidential, parliamentary and council elections on May 21, hopes the law will level the playing field for politicians.

President Peter Mutharika will be contesting for his final presidential term against a number of opponents including former President Joyce Banda. Both candidates have said they will support the new law.

While Malawi is the latest African country to pass such a law, many other countries have made proclamations and policies banning handouts during election campaigns. Kenya criminalised any form of undue influence including bribery and violence, with offenders facing a fine of $9,750 or a three-year jail term.

Others such as Madagascar has no policy or law in place to govern election funding and spending. It is the absence of such a law that saw the just-concluded first round of the country’s elections focus more on how much the candidates can spend rather than key issues.

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