European Union Election Observation Mission to Malawi 2004 Elections

Peacefully Conducted election with a wide choice of political contestants marred by serious shortcomings in the electoral process

Blantyre, 22 May 2004

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU) has been present in Malawi since 5 April to observe the presidential and parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for 18th May 2004, but postponed until 20 May 2004.  The EU EOM came to Malawi at the invitation of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and after the conclusion of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Malawi and the European Commission covering its presence in Malawi.

The Mission is led by Chief Observer Mrs Marieke Sanders-ten Holte from Netherlands, Member of the European Parliament, Vice President of its Development and Corporation Committee, who headed a core team of five experts that are present in country for a total of eight weeks. A total of 22 Long-Term Observers (LTOs) were deployed throughout the country for six weeks and 51 Short-Term Observers (STOs) joined the mission to observe voting, counting and the tabulation of results.  A total of 79 observers from 13 Member States of the European Union and Norway were therefore present in country.A delegation of five members of the Africa Caribbean Pacific-European Union (ACP-EU) Joint Parliamentary Assembly, headed by Mrs Karin Junker and Mr Ephriam Kamuntu, was also present in the country over the elections day period and share the conclusions of this preliminary statement.

PRELIMINARY CONCLUSIONS

PRELIMINARY FINDINGS

Constitutional and Legal Framework

The Constitution, the parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act and other legislation regulating the electoral process provide an adequate framework for the conduct of democratic elections.However, the legislative framework could be improved in a number of key areas, including the rules governing the composition of the MEC and clarification of the role of MEC and Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) competencies relating to regulation of media during campaign period. Political will is needed to implement these changes.The legislative framework would also benefit from the introduction of provisions to require transparency in the declaration of campaign funds form private resources.

A welcome aspect of the elections was the performance of the High Court and Supreme Court, which dealt with electoral complaints in a timely and independent manner.

Electoral Administration

Under the constitution and the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act, the MEC is provided with mandate to exercise general direction and supervision over the conduct of elections.However the MEC did not exercise its powers and responsibilities in a satisfactory way, failing in particular, to address complaints filed by political contestants relating primarily to problems with voter roll, abuse of state resources and biased media coverage.This was confirmed by a ruling of the Supreme Court on 18 May and contributed to a widespread mistrust in its ability to act independently.

The voter registration process was widely regarded as unsatisfactory by elections stakeholders. Following problems during the registration period in January 2004, the MEC was unable to process all of the registration data in time for the April verification period and subsequently missed a number of its own deadlines for the publication of the voter roll.When the final version was published on 9 May, it contained nearly a million fewer names than the figure provided previously by the MEC decided to allow registered voters whose names did not appear on the last version of the roll to vote, providing they could be identified using 1999 voter roll or voter registration cards.

Pre-election Environment

Political parties and presidential candidates campaigned throughout the country.While the campaigns of the ruling party and the Mgwirizano coalition were the most evident and included numerous rallies, the campaign of other parties lacked visibility.Parliamentary candidates were generally active in the constituency in which they were standing, but their resources were limited.Few posters were to be seen around the country. In general campaigns seemed to be biased more on personalities than issues.

Through out the pre-election period the atmosphere remained calm, although a number of isolated incidents were reported.In addition there was tension between the ruling party and former United Democratic Front (UDF) members who were running as independent candidates.

The newly introduced Multi-Party Liaison Committees proved to be useful forum for settling election related  disputes at the local level in some areas, although independent candidates were not always invited to attend.

There were widespread abuse of state resources by the ruling party throughout the campaign period, including the use of government vehicles and human resources.This undermined the democratic process and resulted in the lack of a level playing field for political contestants.

Distribution of money at rallies, particularly those of the UDF, was widespread and on several occasions (including Blantyre Kabula, Lilongwe South West, Lilongwe North East, Salima and Mangochi)it was directly witnessed by EU observers.Such a practice is unacceptable in the democratic election.

Media

The electoral campaign was extensively covered by both electronic and print media, with private newspapers and radio stations showing a variety of political tendencies.However, despite provisions in the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act and Communications Act requiring neutrality, balance and equitable reporting by the media during an election period, the state controlledelectronic media showed substantial bias in favour of UDF/AFORD/NCD and its presidential candidates.

EU EOM monitoring of the media showed that between 16 April and 17 May, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC 1) allocated 97.7% of its elections coverage to UDF/AFORD/NCD and Television Malawi (TVM) allocated 79.5% of its election coverage to UDF/AFORD/NCD.On both state controlled stations, all of this coverage was either neutral or positive in tone.

Voter education broadcast by MBC or TVM was poor and special programmes relating to this matter were only aired during the last two weeks of the electoral campaign.

Unclear attribution of responsibilities to the MEC and MACRA in regulating the media during the campaign period led to gap in addressing this aspect of the electoral process.Since this was not clarified before the start of the campaign period and both bodies stated that it was the responsibility of the other, it resulted in neither body taking action to address the biased coverage by the electronic state controlled media.

Private radio stations monitored by the EU EOM generally provided good coverage to all contestants with an equitable amount of space devoted to parties and candidates.However, the two daily newspapers, The Daily Times and The Nation, showed a negative tone and questionable neutrality when referring to the coalition, and especially its presidential candidate.

Womenís Participation in the Electoral Process

In an encouraging development, more women stood as candidates that in the past and women were given greater attention by the media.It is hoped that this will result in greater representation by women in the new parliament.Women were well represented in the election administration and civil society groups involved in the elections.However, much more needs to be done to involve more women in the electoral process and acquire equal representation in public office.In the outgoingparliament only 3.3% , (17 out of 193 MPS) were women and in local government only 8.6% (75 out of 870 councilors) are women, well below the Southern African Development Committee (SADC) target of 30%.

Civil Society

Civil society organizations played a significant role in the delivery of voter education, primarily through the National Institution for Civic Education (NICE), Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and the Catholic Committee for Justice and Peace (CCJP).While much of the voter education provided by these organizations was of a good quality, there was insufficient focus on women, the illiterate, vulnerable groups and it failed to reach eligible voters in some isolated ruralareas.

Atotal of 21 civil society organizations wee also involved in observation of the elections, under the umbrella of the Malawi Electoral Support Network, which reportedly deployed 11,000 observers on election day.

Election Day

On elections day EU observers were present in 27 of the 28 districts of the country.In almost all polling stations visited by EU observers, party and candidates representatives and domestic observers from civil society were present.

Although many polling stations did not open on time, this was due to minor organizational problems.In 80% of polling stations visited EU observers assessed the conduct of voting positively and reported that polling station officials performed their duties in a professional and independent manner.Indelible ink was applied in all polling stations visited by EU observers, although unfortunately ink stained results in some ballots being spoilt.The secrecy of the ballot was well maintained in virtually all polling stations visited.However, in over a third of polling stations visited by EU observes, problems with voter roll were apparent.

Counting took place in positive atmosphere in almost all of the polling stations visited by EU observers.In many cases, however, it took a long time to complete and was undertaken in rooms barely lit by candles, which caused an acceptable hardship for the people concerned.Some minor irregularities were reported.Party and candidates representatives were provided with a copy of the results in 80% of polling stations where counts were observed.

The EU EOM will continue to observe the tabulation and announcement of results as well as the adjudication by the MEC and the courts of any election complaints.The final assessment of these elections well depend, in part, on an evaluation of these aspects of the electoral process.A comprehensive report, including recommendations for improving the electoral process, will be presented to the authorities by the Chief Observer at the beginning of August.