Celebrating World Human Rights Day

On Thursday, December 10, 2015 Malawians join the rest of the world to celebrate the World Human Rights Day. This is a special moment of stocktaking for the progress made in the advancement, protection and preservation of human rights.

As we prepare for the By-elections on December 22, 2015, we take time in this article to focus on the right to vote as espoused in the Republican Constitution under section 40(3). This section says that every person shall have the right to vote and to do so in secret.

Every vote matters regardless of who is being voted for; President, members of Parliament or Ward Councillor. Elections are not simply  about who will be the representative but an expression and fulfillment of constitutional obligation.

Malawi is one of the countries that have universal and equal suffrage. That is voting rights have been extended to all eligible citizens regardless of age, gender, race, education or tribe.

However, in Malawi voting is not compulsory like in other countries such as Australia where people can be taken to court and fined for failing to show up for voting without valid reason.

With voting being voluntary, there is need to raise more awareness on the importance of and to inculcate a culture of exercising this right.

It has been noted that turnout in the by-elections especially on Local Government By-elections is not satisfactory. During the by-elections held on October 7, 2014 in five wards and two constituencies  the highest turnout was 40.87 percent and the lowest being 12.12 percent. The average was 26.14 percent.

The highest percentage voter turnout in the August 2015 by-elections which took place in five wards was 42.72 percent while the lowest was 13.42 percent. The average voter turnout was 25.87 percent.

The by-elections coming on December 22 offer an opportunity for registered voters in Zomba Chisi Constituency,  and Mtope and Ngala wards to turn around the statistics.

As we celebrate the World Human Rights Day we should remember that the right to vote actualises other political rights. Voting connects citizens with their political process. It helps choose our leaders (those who share our views or those who may inspire us). The simple act of marking a ballot tells our leaders what we think about decisions that affect our lives, what we think is most important.

Voting helps to safeguard freedoms guaranteed under the constitution. A democratic community can only survive if its citizens see participation in the political process as a duty and a responsibility.

Wishing you all nice celebrations.