Electoral commission racing against time in Malawi

The closure of the Malawi Electoral Commission by the former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika disturbed the country’s electoral calendar, but the commission challenge that it will properly manage next year’s tripartite elections, the first ever in Malawi, newstimeafrica can report.

Malawi

Malawi

Local government elections were scheduled to take place in April 2011 but preparations were discontinued due to an impromptu sealing of MEC offices by late president Mutharika in December 2010.

However, the commission dares that come May 2014 Malawians will be given the opportunity to vote for ward councillors in addition to electing their parliamentarians and president.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the re-demarcation exercise was not completed in 2010 because the Commission was closed.

“At the time of closure, we had only finished collecting information. This information is what the technocrats and experts call scenarios on the new boundaries that would help us develop new maps,” said Commissioner Archbishop Emeritus Dr. Bernard Malango in Chikhwawa Monday January 14 2013.

The sentiments were also echoed byCommissioners Ambassador Reverend Emmanuel Chinkwita-Phiri and Dr. Wellington Mkwepu Nakanga in Salima and Chitipa, where they were respectively chairing the on-going public hearings on ward re-demarcations, director of media and public relations, Sangwani Mwafulirwa confirmed Monday night.

The late professor Bingu wa Mutharika ordered that the electoral commission be suspended amid talks of grave fraud that ended up with the police sealing the electoral commission’s headquarters in Blantyre.

The suspension followed an alarming audit report that indicated that some US$ 9 million meant for local government elections could not be accounted for.  But the figures kept on lowering by the passing of time.

That time, it has been learnt, the electoral body was among others, in the process of re-demarcating the wards in line with the country’s new electoral law.

Malawi last held local polls in the year 2000 whose councillors left office in 2005. This was during the United Democratic Front rule.

Under the current law, the number of wards has been reduced to 444 from 861, which many commentators argue is not practical. The people are not happy with the reduction of the number of wards and spreading of polling centres.

The meetings were being graced by District Commissioners; other Commissioners; members of the multi-party liaison committee; the civil society, the general public; political parties, traditional and religious leaders.

“Today, we are continuing from where we stopped in 2010. As you might have noted, the Commission has printed maps, which were distributed to the council and to all Traditional Authority headquarters for viewing.

“Today, we will get views on what you have observed. We are here to find out if the maps reflect what was discussed during the consultations of 2010,” said Reverend Chinkwita-Phiri in the central region district of Salima.

However the Malawi Electoral Commission has expressed satisfaction with the way the public hearings are being patronised and the valuable contributions from the general public which commissioners say will assist the electoral body fine tune their preparations to the first ever tripartite elections.

In Chikwawa the Reverend Chinkwita Phiri thanked everyone for making it to the public hearing observing that being a demanding season; people are busy in the fields and it is raining heavily.

“The fact that you have made it to this place, demonstrates the importance you attach to this exercise of demarcation. We, at the Commission, do not take this effort on your part and sacrifice for granted,” the Rev Chimkwita Phiri stated.

In the northern district of Chitipa Dr. Nakanga observed that even a journey of a thousand miles begins with one solitary step; “So today, we are taking a step in preparation for the tripartite elections in 2014.

“And I am here to confirm that in 2014, we will have Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections,” Dr. Nakanga made the assurance.

MEC articulates that it is determined to do their best so that the tripartite elections are the best ever and a model to other countries, noting that the feat can however not be achieved by the commissioners and MEC secretariat staff alone.

“All stakeholders have various crucial roles to play. As MEC, we have decided to take a consultative approach to the management of elections and its activities.

“As such, we will be holding frequent meetings with all electoral stakeholders to solicit their views and input. This meeting we are having today is just one way of doing that,” said Dr. Nakanga.

In line with the Electoral Commission Amendment Act of 2010 the Malawi electoral commission did consultations on wards demarcations.

The amendment says that each constituency should have two wards except for the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe which can have not more than 30 wards, while Mzuzu city  has a slot of not more than 15 with Zomba not exceeding 10 wards.

Although the law says each constituency have not more than two wards during the discussions stakeholders are recommending that the commission revert to the old position, so that there is true representation in the council.

“But this entails amending the current law of 2010 demarcation of wards,” notes Commissioner Dr. Nakanga.

The director of media and public relations has disclosed that in coming up with the new wards the Malawi electoral commission considered the provisions of the Constitution on demarcation which place great emphasis on population density.

“The intention is that wards in a constituency should be approximately equal.  The goal is to achieve equal representation.

“The Commission also looked at ease of communication, geographical features, existing administrative areas, and wishes of the people,” Mwafulirwa said, adding the commission endeavoured to ensure that the ward boundaries do not cross council boundaries.

According to the electoral commission, the exercise was not done by the commission alone.

“There was a Ward Demarcation Committee whose representation was drawn from the district and MEC would like to thank the Committee under the leadership of the District Commissioner for a job well done,” commented Emeritus Bishop Malango in the southern district of Chikhwawa, adding; “The elections are the business of us all. The quality of your participation will greatly contribute to the success and credibility of the 2014 elections.”

After recording the views, the commission will make a final determination which it says will be communicated to the people “within the shortest period”.

But with the austerity budget the Malawi government has adopted, the commission says it will create additional centres only in special cases as determined on a case-by-case basis.

And after the meetings there will be no further debate or suggestions on the maps and ward boundaries, the commission warns

Recently, the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) indicated that it is disappointed with MEC’s delay in releasing a calendar for the 2014 elections, saying the delay will negatively affect preparations.

MESN wondered how without a calendar other stakeholders will pull out resources from developing partners or even assess whether the electoral commission is working according to plan.

Last December MEC reached out to the people of Kasungu in the central region, Nsanje in the south and Rumphi in the northern Malawi.

The Malawi Electoral Commission’s mission is to conduct free fair, credible and cost effective elections on a regular basis as required by the Constitution.

© 2013, Peter Chipanga. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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