Mzinda, Malawi: citizens question representative democracy in local government election debates

By Blessings Chavula for Mzinda,  Malawi 

In 2014, Malawi held the first tripartite general elections where citizens voted for Councillors, MPs and Presidential candidates. The election was particularly special and unique for the Councillor vote as it had been 9 years since the last Councillors had taken office.  In 2005, a presidential decree was made to amend the local government act which rendered wards unrepresented.

As such, for the first time in 9 years, 2014 saw the ushering in of new Councillors and Mayors into office in four cities and two municipalities across the country. This January, 2017 marked the end of the two and half year term for the mayors of cities and called for mayoral elections. The mandate to vote in the mayoral elections lies in the hands of Councillors and Members of Parliament of cities.

Mzinda followed the mayoral contest in the three pilot cities. And in a quest to enhance citizen engagement, we partnered with Zodiak Broadcasting Station, which is Malawi’s leading radio station with the largest footprint to conduct Mayoral debates. The idea was to bring mayoral candidates to debate on their plan of action once voted and to also provide them with a platform to engage with citizens and ensure incorporation of citizens expectations in their plans

Interestingly in Lilongwe city, candidates were non-committal to conduct the mayoral debates citing intra-party politics as a factor. In Mzuzu city only one of the four contesting candidates turned up for the debate. Whilst in Blantyre none of the four candidates contesting turned up.

As though to intimate the hunger, willingness or need citizens have to engage with elected leaders; citizens turned out in numbers at both events. The moderator for the debates; Zodiak broadcaster Chance Muloza Banda thus turned to hear citizen’s views and expectations of the contestants when they ascend to the position of mayor.

Some of the views from citizens that attended the two debates included;

“The new Mayor should have good plans that will ensure the Mzuzu city council improves and maximizes revenue collection to ensure there are no excuses of lack of resources as being the cause of inefficient service delivery?”

“The city council should step up efforts in waste collection. For some areas they should not stick to their program of collecting waste twice a week. Waste should be collected as and when the waste storage dustbins in designated places are full”

“The city council should be strict with regards giving out business operation licenses for drinking joints. In some areas Bottle Stores are very close to people’s houses”

“We have heard about reports of abuse of resources at the city council, the Mayor should come out clean on this and ensure concerted efforts with fellow Councillors so that this does not continue”

Mzinda using social media to gather information regarding citizen’s expectations of the roles and responsibilities of their potential mayor in Mzuzu city, Malawi.

The Mayoral elections went on well and all reports and expectations that citizens raised at the debates were documented and shared with the Councilors that attained the office of Mayor in the cities of Blantyre and Mzuzu. The reports were also shared on the Mzinda web platform.

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