When Malawi was gearing up for elections in 2009, the climate was characterised by high political tensions. There were signs that if not managed properly, the violence that devastated Kenya in 2008 might be repeated in Malawi.
MALAWI >>> KENYA
21-25 SEPTEMBER 2008
HOSTS: CENTRE FOR MULTIPARTY DEMOCRACY KENYA (CMD-K)
Malawi prepares for elections
Just as in Kenya, the opposition parties in Malawi had lost trust in the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), as it was perceived to be biased in favour of the governing party. The President had unilaterally appointed the Electoral Commissioners, when Malawi’s constitution requires that this be done in consultation with the political parties represented in Parliament.
In addition, the relationship between the main political parties was characterised by high levels of animosity.
It was against this background that the Centre for Multiparty Democracy Malawi (CMD-Malawi) made a deliberate decision to focus its 2008 activities on the 2009 elections. The exchange visit to Kenya was seen as an opportunity for the Malawian delegation – which included senior politicians, an Electoral Commissioner and a civil society representative – to learn what went wrong in the Kenyan electoral process.
Building confidence and trust
The exchange started with a joint workshop between the Malawi delegation and member political parties of the Centre for Multiparty Democracy Kenya (CMD-K), the host organisation. During this workshop, participants reviewed the challenges facing Malawi in the run-up to the 2009 elections. These challenges were juxtaposed against a critical assessment of the Kenyan electoral process and the bottlenecks that had resulted in the post-election violence.
The Malawi delegation also met with stakeholders who played different roles in the both pre- and post-election period in Kenya. The delegation had discussions with political parties, civil society organisations, and CMD-K. The delegation also met with Mr. Kivuitu, the then Chairperson of the now defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK).
One key lesson that was drawn from this exchange was that transparency and building confidence and trust in the electoral process is fundamental. For this to happen, it was observed that there was need to create mechanisms that could facilitate constructive dialogue and consultations between the electoral management body and other key stakeholders.
What the Malawians did when they returned home
Following their return to Malawi, CMD-M embarked on a formal dialogue platform where political parties and the MEC could meet and discuss a wide range of issues relating to the electoral process. This platform was later joined by civil society members of the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN).
|“From that visit to Kenya, what we referred to as an important lesson was the importance of having a credible electoral commission and we went back home to try to enhance the credibility of our electoral commission and to improve the trust the political parties had in the electoral commission in Malawi.”
Executive Director, CMD-Malawi
During these dialogue sessions, the stakeholders identified a number of areas of concern that needed to be addressed before the electoral process could be rendered credible. With time, the MEC opened up to the other stakeholders and ensured that the process was as transparent as possible. The stakeholders were also able to understand and follow the various steps in the electoral process and made sure that they were directly represented at all critical phases.
With the devastating impact of the Kenyan post-election crisis at the back of their minds, Malawian electoral stakeholders, with the support of CMD-M also committed themselves through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to ensure that they would do everything possible to avoid any kind of violence and that they would instead use all available legal avenues to present their grievances.
A credible electoral process
The overall result of all these initiatives was an electoral process which, although it started with a number of challenges, ended up being credible and acceptable to all parties. Those parties that had complaints took recourse to the Courts for redress. Countries such as Mozambique and Uganda, through subsequent exchange visits, also took a close look at what happened in Malawi. Today, the role that CMD-M played in the 2009 elections continues to serve as a model of good practice in the region.
Image: Political party programmes from the 2009 Malawi general elections, a supplement which appeared in Malawian newspapers and which was supported by CMD-Malawi.