The month of May marks exactly two years since we had the first Tripartite Elections in Malawi where elections are held once every five years, not considering by-elections. Immediately after the elections, MEC came out to tout the electoral cycle approach to elections management. This concept meant that elections were no longer treated as an event, where you can have some idle time, but a cycle or process. Of essence was that preparations for the 2019 elections would start immediately.
As we enter into the third electoral year, it is time to do stocktaking if we are on course to deliver a credible election in 2019. The electoral process, unless if there is a greater shift in paradigm, will normally involve review of previous elections, demarcation, registration, nomination, campaign, voter verification, polling and results management and announcement.
Elections review is the first assignment any electoral management body conducts before starting preparation for next elections. Every election brings its own challenges and there is need to learn from it through the post-mortems. This needs to be carried out as soon as possible while the memories are fresh on the electoral experience and the steam has not died down. Immediately after the 2014 elections, MEC engaged on a thorough exercise on post-elections review with stakeholders at council level. This yielded critical information for improving delivery of elections. The ideas were synthesized into one report and this informed the MEC’s presentation to the Task Force on Electoral Reforms.
The task force has been instrumental in propelling the electoral reforms agenda. It brought stakeholders together under one purpose. It has conducted extensive consultations across the nation and compiled detailed reports that have been submitted to the Law Commission for finalization of the process. A Special Law Commission on Electoral Law Review has been constituted and will develop draft bills that will be passed on to Ministry of Justice for enactment.
In Malawi the law says demarcation should take place every five years. This has not been conducted in past 17 years but this time around MEC is planning for a thorough exercise that will address the disparities in voting populations and unclear borders that have crept in over years. MEC has already started engaging critical stakeholders like the National Statistical Office and the Surveyor General. MEC will also benefit from support by the Commonwealth Secretariat for engaging a consultant to offer technical expertise. The consultant is already in the country for preliminary engagements.
Looking forward to 2019, MEC wants to develop a biometric voters’ register. Ground work has been done and MEC will benefit from the civil register to be developed by the National Registration Bureau (NRB). The new register will eliminate greatly the challenges faced with the manual register which had some names missing, misspelled or misplaced.
As we enter the third year, this stock taking cannot be complete without reflecting on stakeholders like political parties and civil society. The in-between the ballot period is crucial for parties to build their capacity to participate in elections. Parties should be reviewing their constitutions to address challenges faced during last elections like reduced participation of women as candidates. Parties should be identifying and training trainers of trainers in election monitoring now.
Civil society faced funding challenges last time and this is the right time for them to start caucusing donors. A million times it has been said that voter education should be continuous but not many are practicing it.