Domestic elections observers, another electoral stakeholder

This week, we continue mentioning the challenges that Malawi Electoral Commission face in working with domestic or local elections observers. However it should be mentioned here that MEC values the relationship it has with the domestic elections observers. Their reports help the Commission to work on the areas where recommendations have been made.

Limited capacity of the domestic observers is another challenge. For an objective, professional and well informed observation process, the mission is expected to observe developments in all parts of the country and not just within the capital city. This limited capacity is as a result of lack of financial and technical support. Most domestic observers in Malawi fail to function effectively as most of them rely on donor support which mostly does not come at all or comes in trickles. As a result, they fail to mobilize adequate human and material resources for them to function effectively. To this effect, the observers only discharge their duties in cities living out rural areas. With lack of financial support, the domestic observer groups are unable to produce comprehensive reports from their missions. It then becomes a challenge for the MEC because it is not able to have independent information on the ground from domestic observers.

In addition to the challenge above, there is also lack of media strategy among the domestic observers. Although it is important that the domestic observer groups develop a high level of visibility, some domestic observer groups are invisible. Most domestic observer groups in Malawi lack media strategy which may include appointing a spokesperson for the group, periodic public appearances and timely statements on sensitive issues. This serves as a deterrent to those that might seek to manipulate the electoral process. It really surprises MEC to receive a report from a domestic observer group it accredited but has been inactive.

For the 2014 tripartite elections and the subsequent by-elections thereafter the Malawi Electoral Commission intensified the use of social media and the website. However, it was noted that there was lukewarm response by the domestic observer missions to use these new technologies as sources of information. In most of their reports, there was no mention of MEC website and social media as a way in which the Commission was disseminating information. There is need for the domestic observation groups to develop new methodologies to respond to these innovations.

In addition, it was noted that most of the domestic observation groups were not targeted and gender sensitive. Carefully designed and conducted election observation can improve the implementation of the human rights and help to enhance participation in electoral processes. Comprehensive observation should also include an assessment of how all elements of an electoral process affects women, youth, as well as the persons with disabilities. Targeted observation efforts can focus specifically on aspects of women’s participation in elections as there are organizations in our country that are advocating for 50-50 campaign for women in leadership positions.

Election observation is helpful especially when done by domestic observer groups however it is important to note that the ones in Malawi do not have sufficient strength or resources to organize effective monitoring efforts.

The Commission will continue to work hand in hand with domestic elections observers to ensure that it conducts elections in a transparent manner.