50 PLUS 1 VOTING SYSTEM IN MALAWI

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50 plus 1 is one of the three most popular electoral voting system in the world. It is now a new voting system that will replace the winner takes all system which was in place since the dawn of democracy in the country. By definition, a voting system is a set of rules that specify conditions required for electing candidates into public office, such, as president.  

There are many voting systems used by different countries for different reasons as well. The most common three voting systems are; the plurality system, majoritarian system, and the proportional representation (PR).

Variations in voting systems result from factors such as the history, the culture, the practices and roles of the key actors in each economy. In the case of Malawi, the plurality system originates to the colonial history of the country.

Most former British colonies including Malawi adopted the system at the beginning of multiparty democracy. On the other hand many french colonies adopted the majoritarian voting system after gaining independence.  

What is the 50%+ 1 voting system?

This is a voting system that requires the winning candidate to have majority of votes during an election. Also known as the majoritarian system. It is the most common system for electing presidential candidates.

Majority is defined as having 50% of the tallied votes plus one vote. As such this system is called the 50 plus one voting system.

For the past years Malawi like many other countries which are former British colonies has been using the plurality voting system. Plurality system does not need the winning candidate to have majority of votes. The winner is the person with more votes that the other candidates.

One advantage of this system is that it is straight forward. The person which has more votes is the chosen as the winner. It is also easy for the voters as they are simply allowed to vote for only one candidate on the ballot paper.

The plurality system has been the in use for presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections since the beginning of multiparty in Malawi. Plurality voting system is also known as the ‘first- past-the post’, winner takes all, simple majority or relative majority.

Apart from Malawi, the relative majority system, is used in other countries like Botswana, Tanzania, Swaziland, India, Canada, and Zimbabwe.  

However, on 03 February, 2020, the constitutional court in Lilongwe ruled that the 50+ 1 voting system should be used. This followed the constitutional court that nullified presidential elections which were held in May 2019.

Some advantages of the simple majority

  • It is the simplest voting system. Voters simply put a mark on the side of the preferred candidate on the ballot paper. This system is said to be easy even in the countries where illiteracy rates are high.
  • The greater benefit of the plurality system is that it promotes political and government stability. Farrell D. (2000), notes that plurality system exaggerated the winning party’s lead, making it easier to win majority seats in parliament, hence promoting greater parliamentary stability.
  • It creates a link between an elected representative and his/her constituency, therefore, offering high levels of representative accountability.

Despite having some advantages as describe above, the simple majority is widely seen to be unfair, and many countries where it is practiced are replacing it or improving it.

Disadvantage of the simple majority

Firstly, simple majority cannot be relied to provide a legislature that reflecting the various shades of opinion expressed at the election. And it does not necessarily place in power a government supported by majority of electorate.

Secondly, relative majority system is a winner takes it all system which denies that can deny representation of minority opinion, such as of smaller political parties.

How the 50% plus system works?

As pointed above, the 50 + 1 voting system requires that the winner should have at least 50% of the votes that have been tallied during the elections. The winner is expected to have an absolute majority in order to be elected.

In the event that none of the candidates gets the majority votes, then a re-run has to be conducted. During the re-run only the top two competitors are involved in the elections, usually, few weeks after the first election.

In Malawi, previously, the Law society proposed that electoral laws needs to be amended in against the simple majority system. And other law experts agreed with the proposal arguing that the plurality system has failed and it is high time to adopt the alternate system as a way to address some electoral challenges in the country. However, the proposal was successful in parliament, it was accepted.  

Countries where it used for presidential elections include Russia, Portugal, Finland, and Austria. The US electoral college also has components of the 50 plus one, because, the presidential must get 50- plus- one electoral votes in order to win.

Advantages of the 50 plus one voting system

The wide adaptability of the alternate system comes because it is considered to be more advantageous compared to the plurality system. The plurality system is the winner takes it all. This allows selection of president or parliamentarians who are not loved by the majority of the voters in the country.

On the other hand the the 50 plus one is favored because it strengthens the trust of the people in the leader. The system require a greater degree of representativeness.

In Malawi, it is observed that majoritatrian system will solve the problem of regionalism and tribe voting partners.

Apart from solving the challenge on tribalism, the 50 plus 1 system promotes the minority parties. Especially, in cases where coalitions are formed to achieve the majority votes. Coalitions gives the minority political parties the opportunity to express their opinion.  

Like the simple majority system, the majoritarian system is relatively easy to understand and it can produce speedy results.

Lastly, the system overcome the challenge of vote splitting. Voters can have exercise a choice between two similar candidates without fear that the a third unacceptable, candidate maybe be elected.    

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