On May 19 this year, Malawi will hold her fourth Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Although the official campaign period will only start in March the country is already in election fever. The Centre for Multi-party Democracy in Malawi is gearing up to to help keep the political dynamics of open dialogue and constructive cooperation alive during the general election season.
The political climate is tense. Since Malawi’s General Elections of June 2004, the country has gone through some political turbulence which has threatened the very survival of the nascent democracy.
Current President Bingu wa Mutharika, who was elected in May 2004 after a failed attempt by the previous president, Bakili Muluzi, to amend the constitution to permit another term, struggled to assert his authority against his predecessor, resulting in Mutharika dumping the very party, the UDF, on whose ticket he was elected into office. He subsequently started his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). A significant number of politicians from mainly the UDF which hitherto was a ruling party joined the President’s party thereby relegating the UDF to the status of an opposition party without losing an election while the DPP became the ruling party without winning an election. In the forthcoming elections, President Mutharika is seeking a second term while his predecessor, former President Muluzi is a presidential candidate for the UDF amidst legal and constitutional controversies which are yet to be cleared. The main opposition party, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), feels it has been in opposition for far too long (15 years) and would also wish to get back in power. In all fairness, it is not an exaggeration to say that the May elections will not only be characterised by tensions arising from the outstanding unresolved issues, but is will also be highly contested for the stakes are high and the potential for serious political conflicts to erupt cannot be ruled out.
CMD-M: Collective, constructive engagement
Against this background, the Centre for Multiparty Democracy- Malawi (CMD-M) is already in a high gear implementing a number of initiatives that aim at mitigating the tensions that characterise Malawi’s electoral climate and also that are meant to contribute to the successful holding of the free and fair election in May.
Its very nature distinguishes CMD-M among the numerous organisations that are taking part in the electoral process while its vision gives it mandate not to remain idle in times like these. CMD-M is a membership organization comprising of political parties that have representation in the National Assembly. Its recently revised constitution opens membership to other political parties that have no parliamentary representation. Thus, CMD-M is the only organisation which even in times when the contest is hot, the key players can still get together and talk. The CMD – M sets out to ensure the entrenchment of multiparty democracy in Malawi. Its mission is to “enhance inter – party programs of common interest for the promotion of political dialogue, stable multiparty democracy and social economic development of Malawi.”
Through the CMD-M, political parties have been able to collectively and constructively engage with the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) on matters that are of common concern to them as political parties. This dialogue is already bearing fruits. For instance, because of CMD-M’s initiative, MEC was obliged to critically review its phased voter registration process which resulted in re-opening many of the centres where political parties felt the process was not effective. Again, thanks to CMD-M, MEC is currently reviewing their proposed nomination fees which had been hiked by 2000% and 1000% for Parliamentary and Presidential candidates respectively. In collaboration with the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) - an umbrella body of all civil society organisations participating in the electoral process- CMD-M is also advocating for the 50-50 women representation in Parliament.
'Towards May 19'
Realizing the high expectations and the exceptional significance of the forth coming 2009 General Elections, the CMD – M, while continuing with the effort of identifying its own niche so as to become a critical stakeholder in the political dynamics, undertook a study tour to Kenya on 21-25th September 2008. This was under the auspices of NIMD’s Africa Regional Programme and the idea was to appreciate the challenges that characterised Kenya’s December 2007 elections and also to have deep insights into the role that a sister organisation there, the CMD-K played particularly in respect of facilitating dialogue and conflict management. Some of the lessons learned from that visit are already directly feeding into CMD-M’s programming in its elections related initiatives.
As a contribution towards the promotion of issue based politics and to level the political playing field, CMD-M is also sponsoring a series of radio programmes called “Towards May 19”. During these programmes, political parties are given an opportunity to define their agenda, elaborate their own their manifestos, and in the process give justification as to why the electorate should vote for them. In a related development, CMD-M is also producing newspaper inserts where the general public can, at a glance, compare and contrast different orientations, beliefs and promises from different political parties. The first of such inserts is titled “Know your Political Parties”.
All these activities are done with funding from NIMD, which continues to play an actively supportive role in the electoral process of the region. In Kenya, the CMD-K is one of the leading organisations that became the focal point during the electoral crisis that ensued after their 2007 general elections. The Zambian Centre for Inter-party Dialogue (ZCID) showcased the great potential that inter-party forums can have when it successfully took a leading role in Zambia’s unprecedented Presidential by-elections in October 2008 including organising a joint elections monitoring group of senior party representatives across the political divides. Just recently, the Institute of Economic Affairs in Ghana was instrumental in the highly successful Ghanain presidential elections that took place in December, the climax of which was the Presidential debates that were organised.
For more information:
On the NIMD Malawi programme and CMD-M, contact: Kizito Tenthani, Executive Director, CMD-M at email@example.com;
On the NIMD Africa Regional Programme, contact: Dr. Augustine Magolowondo, Regional Programme Coordinator on firstname.lastname@example.org