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Legal framework | Voter Registration | Nomination of Candidates| Campaign Process | Access to Public Media | Violence | Civic & Voter Education | Voter Roll Insepection |Polling | Announcement of Results | Position of MESN

Malawi as a country went to polls to choose a President and Members of Parliament on 20th May 2004. The elections were organised, administered and managed by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of Malawi and the Electoral Law. In carrying out its functions, the MEC involved various stakeholders including Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN).

Members of MESN were duly accredited by MEC to provide civic and voter education and also undertake elections monitoring. MESN members deployed 11,000 monitors across the country stationed at all polling centres. In addition, MESN deployed 60 roving domestic observers in all districts including the National Tally Centre.

What follows below is an assessment report of the entire electoral process. The assessment was based on international standards of free and fair elections.

Legal Framework
The electoral law was assessed to be sufficient although there were attempts to adjust the Constitution to allow for the conduct of tripartite elections so that Local Government Elections were also conducted this year. However, MEC did not adequately apply the law to deal with the many electoral petitions and complaints that rose during the process. For instance, MEC did not undertake to ensure that all political parties had equal access to public resources including public media. However, stakeholders were able to seek redress from the courts based on the same electoral law. In fact, in the ruling, the court noted that MEC had abrogated its mandate.

Management and Administration and the Electoral Process
MESN is pleased that MEC released its electoral calendar in time. However, owing to financial constraints, MESN noted that MEC was unable to efficiently implement its electoral calendar. Generally, MEC was poorly prepared for the organisation, administration and management of the elections. MEC suffered daunting logistical problems mainly in the sourcing of cameras and delivery of materials. Timing of the proposed amendments to the electoral law was also ill. No wonder no success was secure in this case.

MEC also delayed in accrediting NGOs to carry out civic and voter education. This delay affected the preparedness of the accredited NGOs as the majority could not source funds in time.

MESN commends MEC for printing ballots papers in time; establishing useful Mult-party Liaison Committee structures at district level and also the National Elections Co-ordinating Forum (NECOF) which provided a forum for dialogue and amicable resolution of some of the electoral disputes including inter-party conflicts. MEC also maintained linkages with civil society organisation.

MEC also failed to exercise its independence in the discharge of its functions. This was evident in the failure of MEC to level the playing field especially with regard to the access to public media and other public resources. MEC was biased towards the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) in determining electoral disputes.

Voter Registration
MESN is concerned that voter registration was marred with a lot of irregularities. For instance, materials such as firms, camera, transfer forms and voter registration certificates were in inadequate supply. Some other cameras were even obsolete. Further, there was initially inadequate time for registration. Timing and announcing of the registration period was poor. Although the period was extended, this was not coupled with the supply of adequate materials. Further still registration had to proceed without photos. This resulted in the erosion of credibility of the voters’ roll as double registration ensued. This blotted the figures on the voters’ roll.

Nomination of Candidates
This was done at two levers – party level and MEC level. At a party level the selection of candidates (commonly known as primaries) was generally not democratic. The process was not transparent let alone inclusive. The bulk of the candidates were imposed by the parties on electorate. Supervison of primaries was also done by the parties responsible. This again did not ensure transparency of the process.

This eroded the confidence of the people of the people in terms of citizen participation. In addition, the aggrieved candidates opted to stand as independents, some having been demanded by the electorate. This fuelled intra-party political violence. Nearly all the political parties suffered this shortcoming. The violence and hate speeches were also particularly targeted at independent candidates.

These notwithstanding, MESN commends MEC for putting in place mechanisms for receiving nominations in transparent manner.

Campaign Process
The official campaign process began on 20 March 2004. However, before then all all political parties had already started campaigning. During both campaign periods, the campaign process was characterised by following irregularities:

Access to Public Media
The ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) and its allies the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) and the New Congress for Democracy (NCD) had a monopoly over access to public media. Monitoring reports indicate that on average UDF/AFORD/NCD Alliance accessed at leased 95% of the airwaves in Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Television against 5% which was shared among all other candidates and political parties. However, such access was allowed rather too late, two weeks before polling. This denied the electorate of access to information held by other parties and candidates.
Use of and Access of Public Resources

The UDF/AFORD/NCD abused public resources. Notable resources ere vehicles from government departments and statutory corporation in ferrying people to political rallies. Supporters were also given financial and maize handouts at rallies. These handouts were intended to influence the voting the voting choices of the electorate. The alliance also abused government personnel mainly District Commissioners and Police including traditional leaders to prevent other political players to conduct their rallies. For instance, at Njamba Freedom Park in Blantyre, a rally by Mgwirizano Coalition was disrupted by the Police and Blantyre City Assembly.

During the official campaign period, isolated incidences of political violence were reported and recorded in Kasungu, Nsanje, Blantyre Kabula, Machinga, Karonga and Mzimba. However, these were not addressed by the police as largely the police were partisan against opposition. There were also violations with respect to the Freedom of Assembly. For example, in Karonga there were confirmed reports that the Movement for Genuine Democracy (Mgode) disturbed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from conducting their political rally. Campaign was also not mainly on issues but hate speech and character assassination.

Civic and Voter Education
Generally, civic and voter education was adequately provided. This was because civil society organisations were accredited late and that they lacked financial and material capacities to carry out the tasks. MEC provided the bulk of voter education. As a result, people were not adequately enlightened on the electoral process and elections. This might have affected voter responsiveness and also the quality of voting.

Voter Roll Insepection
Verification of the voters’ roll was poorly organised. Publicity was ill timed and not enough. Further, the voters’ roll was not displayed at the centres for verification by the public until the last day. Worse still, time for verification was inadequate. Although remedy was obtained from the court to postpone elections to allow opportunity for voters’ roll verification, still more, the voters’ roll was not displayed. Extension time was rather too short.

This notwithstanding, MESN noted that the voters’ roll had several irregularities. For instance, the computerised voters’ roll had a number of voters without photos while some of those with photos, did not have their names correspond with those photos. For example, Mkwichi Registration/Polling Centre in Lilongwe City, 25% of the voters did not have photos.

There were serious disparities between the voting population determined by the National Statistical Office (NSO) (this is, 5.6 M) and those registered and MEC (this is 6.6 M). This again eroded transparency and the integrity of the electoral process. Of course, MEC adjusted the figure to 5.7m. It was on the basis of these figures that excessive (7.3 m) ballot papers were printed.

Generally, polling was conducted in a peaceful atmosphere except for isolated cases at CI in Blantyre and other areas. Polling stations were also properly mounted and were accessible.

However, it was noted that most polling staff were not well knowledgeable about the voting process. This was manifested in the violations of the procedures and also the delays in opening and closing the polls. Most of the staff did not know what to do and had to be assisted by the independent monitors. For example, in most stations, polling staff had detached excessive ballot papers in advance. This could have made it easy to manipulate the vote count. In addition, some results were sent to the National Tally Centre without being dully signed at a District Tally Centre.

Most stations opened much later that the official 6:00 am. These had repercussions on counting and communication of results to the District Centres and eventually to the National Tally Centre. These concerns suggest that polling staff did not receive adequate training to prepare them for the job.

Announcement of Results
Generally MEC was not transparent and accountable enough in communication the results as counting progressed. At the National Tally Centre in Blantyre, MEC was unable to post results on the board until very late on the second day. On this second day, only negligible results were posted on the board. This is a sharp departure from the legitimate expectation that results be communicated to the public as counting gets through at each station. The monitors at the National Tally Centre were able to monitor the figures, which were being coded. Yet the coding was not displayed to ensure transparency of the coding process.

The delay in posting and announcing the results has created suspicion on the credibility of the process. Yet the MEC allowed the Malawi Broadcasting to release unofficial results from almost all the centres by the same time. Worse, the results that were being released by MBC were at variance with results collected and confirmed from the polling centres where civil society monitors were deployed.

For instance, in Mchinji results in favour of John Tembo, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) Presidential Candidate were deliberately reported to be 46,000 instead of 72,000. This was captured by the civil society monitor, who demanded that it be reversed. It was indeed reversed. This was confirmed by the parallel voter tabulation undertaken by the civil society.

In a related development, MEC reported that a presiding officer was arrested in Kasungu for attempting to run away with the results. At CI in Blantyre violence arose between voters and suspected that the electoral officials were not conducting the polls in a transparent manner.

The combined effect of these two anomalies, have raised a feeling that the vote count is being manipulated using the airwaves. No redress was taken by MEC. Subsequently, avoidable tension has been created in the people of Malawi, particularly parties and candidates. The tension has been compounded by the announcement by government that inauguration would take place on Monday, 24 May, 2004 and that Heads of States and Governments from other countries have already been invited even when results have been released and petitions determined.

Position of MESN on the Conduct of the Elections
Based on the aforesaid observations, MESN concludes that the conduct of these elections fell short of the standards for credible, legitimate, free and fair elections and we accordingly qualify them as such. MESN therefore proceed to recommend that the announcement of the final results should be put on hold until all petitions and complaints have been ironed out. Meanwhile, MESN urges that results from centres be communicated to the public to enable them scrutinise them.

Similarly, MESN urges that inauguration that has been slated for Monday should suspended further to the foregoing recommendation. To safeguard the integrity of the electoral process and indeed MEC, inauguration can only be reasonable when results have been appropriately determined and announced. It is only then that the legitimacy of the ensuing leadership can be respected. MESN reminds the MEC that all legal and political authority to govern Malawi is given by the people of Malawi in terms of sections 6 and 12 (i), (ii) and (iii) of the Constitution of Malawi. For that reason, MESN calls upon all the people of Malawi not to recognise the outcome of the elections unless these recommendations have been attended to.

Finally, MESN commend the people of Malawi for participating in the 2004 elections through voting; the government and donor community for providing resources to enable the elections to take place and political parties and people for contesting and security institutions for providing safety and security despite the afore mentioned challenges. MESN also commends the media for the good job. MESN is greatly indebted to all monitors who worked selflessly in order to keep track of the electoral process.

Moses Mkandawire

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