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Namibia unapologetic about Malawi election pronouncement

By Paul T. Shipale
In view of the report titled "Namibia unapologetic about Malawi election pronouncement" that appeared in the last Friday edition of the Namibian Sun Newspaper on 30 May 2014, allow me to contribute to the debate and respond to those who texted to the Namibian Newspaper asking for explanations.

First of all, let me congratulate the newly elected Malawian President, Peter Mutharika who was declared by the Malawi Electoral Commission's chief Maxon Mbendera as Presidentelect after the High Court refused a last-ditch attempt to block the release of the result and allowed time for a recount.

According to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), Professor Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took 36.4% of the votes cast, followed by Reverend Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and former President, Dr Joyce Banda of the People's Party (PP) with 20.2%, respectively. I should also commend the Former President, Dr Joyce Banda for conceding defeat and for calling all Malawians to support the newly sworn in President.

With the announcement of the results, the African Union Election Observer Mission (AUEOM) to the 20 May 2014 Tripartite General Elections in Malawi, and the SADC Observation Mission Headed by His Excellency Dr. Sam Nujoma, the Founding President of the Republic of Namibia and Father of the Namibian Nation and the Namibian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Netumbo Nandi- Ndeitwa respectively, are vindicated especially when the former concluded in its Preliminary Statement released on the 22nd of May 2014, that "While the tabulation of election results is ongoing, the AUEOM hereby concludes that the 2014 elections provided an opportunity for Malawians to choose their leaders at the polls. The elections were conducted in a largely transparent manner in accordance to the legal framework of Malawi and international standards."

The AU Mission comprised of 52 Observers, including10 Long Term Observers (LTOs) and 42 Short Term Observers (STOs), drawn from the Pan- African Parliament, African Ambassadors to the African Union, Election Management Bodies, Civil Society Organisations and experts from different African countries including Namibia with the presence of the former Director of ECN, Mr. Mbeuta waNdjarakana.

The Mission was also supported by a technical team drawn from the AUC, the Pan- African Parliament (PAP) and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) and had a mandate to observe the 20 May 2014 Tripartite Elections in conformity with the relevant provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which entered into force on 15 February 2012. The AUEOM's mandate was further strengthened by the AU/ OAU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa (AHG/ Decl.1 (XXXVIII); the African Union Guidelines for Election Observation and Monitoring Missions both adopted by the Assembly of the African Union Heads of State in July 2002; as well as other relevant regional and international benchmarks for election observation and the legal framework for the conduct of elections in the Republic of Malawi.

To achieve its objective, the Mission first, deployed a team of 10 Long Term Observers (LTOs) in Malawi since 12 April 2014 in the four regions covering 27 districts to assess the pre-election context and formulate their assessment of the pre-election context. The AUEOM issued its interim assessment of the pre-election context at a press conference on 15 May 2014 where it stated that the LTOs will remain on the ground in Malawi until 7 June 2014 in order to continue to observe the post-election phase of the process.

The LTOs were joined by a team of Short Term Observers (STOs) on 12 May 2014, which immediately underwent an intensive 3-day orientation session during which they received briefings from a wide range of electoral stakeholders including MEC, the Media, civil society groups and election experts. On 17 May 2014, STOs were deployed in 22 teams to all the regions of Malawi covering 174 constituencies in 24 districts. . During the period of deployment, the AU observers visited 262 polling stations to observe Election Day procedures, the opening, voting, closing and counting procedures in their areas of deployment.

As part of the commitment of the leadership of the AU to democratic elections on the African continent, H.E. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the AUC, paid a working visit to the Republic of Malawi from 14 to 16 May 2014 during which she, together with the Head of the AUEOM, H.E. Dr Nujoma, consulted with the top leadership of political parties, MEC, candidates, and government officials, as part of the AUEOM's continuous assessment of the country's electoral preparedness.

The AUEOM also took the lead in coordinating the activities of international observer groups that were present in Malawi to ensure a cross pollination of ideas, information and preliminary assessments. In this regard, the AUEOM convened pre and post-election joint meetings of heads of other international election observation missions. These meetings were attended by the observer missions of SADC, SADC Election Commission Forum, SADC Parliamentary Forum, SADC Electoral Support Network, COMESA Commonwealth and EU. The AUEOM leadership also attended post-election coordination meetings hosted by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the EU.

According to the AUEOM, Election Day began to a slow start in 23 of the 25 polling centres where AU observers were present for the opening of the poll. The delayed opening was due to late delivery of election materials in most cases. In isolated cases, such as in the Eastern Region, delays were due to poor weather conditions. The Mission noted that some polling stations opened as late as 14:00 due to non-availability of essential materials. The Mission also noted that logistical challenges with transportation of materials in time to the polling centres were experienced, but MEC was able to address these challenges to allow voting to start. The MEC allowed voting to continue in the evening to compensate for the time lost on account of the delays in opening the polls. In the polling centres where voting was postponed until 21 May 2014, AU observers noted that the process commenced late as the election materials were again not delivered on time. For instance, this was the case at the Matope Centre and Ndirande Community Hall. In other centres such as Namalimwe School where elections materials were destroyed on Election Day, polling was once again delayed due to nonavailability of materials.

Besides the late delivery of election materials, the AUEOM also noted that there were further challenges with the quantity and quality of election materials after they were delivered. These include; shortage in the supply of ballot boxes in some stations in Machinga District; Interruption of the voting process in some polling stations due to shortage in supply of ballot papers. For instance in Monkey-Bay School, Nkisi School and St Augustine III polling centres in Mangochi; Non-availability of the voter register at some polling stations such as Domasi Government School Polling station in Zomba.

Notwithstanding these challenges, the Mission noted that Polling centres were located in public facilities which were easily accessible to all voters including the aged and persons with disability. Furthermore, most of the polling centres visited by AU observers were laid out in a manner that allowed easy flow of voters and guaranteed the secrecy of the ballot. AU observers also noted the presence of independent citizen observers at most polling stations visited. Party and candidate agents were also present and they were able to conduct their duties without inhibition or interference. The AUEOM also noted that 35% of polling agents and 29% of citizen observers encountered were women and therefore commends these efforts to ensure the participation of women at different levels.

As far as the voting procedures were concerned, the AUEOM noted that voting was generally conducted in compliance with procedures stipulated in the legal framework, which were simple and easily understood by voters although not time effective as the time required to process each voter was lengthy. The AUEOM also noted that priority was given only to aged voters and voters requiring assistance such as persons with disability and unlettered voters. Such priority was however not extended to expectant mothers and women with infants in most polling centres visited. However, voters requiring assistance were granted such assistance. Article 17(3) of the AU Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007) stipulates the principle of fair and equitable access by contesting parties and candidates to public media. Also Section 61 of the Constitution of Malawi provides for freedom of expression and freedom of the media, while Section 62 encompasses the right to access information.

While the AUEOM had not independently observed the selective application of these provisions, it received several reports of allegations of the use of state resources for campaign purposes by the incumbent party. The AU observer mission was not in a position to verify these allegations although it viewed them most seriously and according to the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA), the Malawi Television (TVM) and the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)'s coverage excessively favoured the incumbent People's Party and its candidates who received on average over 90% coverage. However, as the campaign went by, this coverage decreased and was fairly balanced with several private radio stations also giving coverage to opposition candidates.

Based on its observations and findings, the AUEOM made some recommendations in order to improve the Malawi Electoral system. Among them, that the MEC should revise and finalise the current voter register to reduce the cost of conducting a fresh registration exercise during the next elections. The AUEOM also called on the relevant government departments to cooperate with MEC to ensure that registered deaths are taken off the register and the register is reviewed on a continuous basis in order to contribute to the credibility of the register for the next elections.

The AUEOM further recommended that the verification of the register should be done in a timely manner ahead of Election Day and copies of the finalised register availed to political parties in ample time and called for Parliament to amend the legal framework to provide a timeframe within which election disputes should be resolved in order to ensure timely dispensation of electoral justice. All in all, the 2014 elections provided an opportunity for Malawians to choose their leaders at the polls and were conducted in a largely transparent manner in accordance to the legal framework of Malawi and international standards as both the AUEOM and the SADC teams headed by Namibians declared.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen


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