It is great to have stepped into 2018. For the majority of Malawians that are politically aware, 2018 is a year when so much attention will be paid to the buildup of the 2019 Presidential and Parliamentary Tripartite Elections (PPTE).
Although a little far off—17 months away to be exact—the shenanigans of 2017 already make one feel like the elections are tomorrow. Talk, for example, about the manner in which government frustrated the tabling of the Electoral Reforms Bills. Government’s fear of the 50+1 Bill and the other electoral reform bills seem to have brought elections closer.
For its part, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has its work clearly cut out. As the key implementing agency for the polls, it is up and down holding interface meetings with electoral stakeholders including the media. It is good that MEC is aware that holding a free and fair election is not only its responsibility.
This week, for example, MEC’s Media, Civic and Voter Education Committee has been holding meetings with members of the media to seek their collaboration and buy in and also to hear from them on critical issues so that together Malawi can deliver credible Tripartite Elections next year.
I also like the fact that MEC has adopted the electoral cycle approach to elections management. This is from the realization that elections are not an event but a continuous process.
This far MEC has implemented several activities in preparation for the 2019 elections. They include reviewing the Media Code of Conduct; accrediting civic and voter education (CVE) providers. To this end, a whopping 110 Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have been accredited to carry out civic and voter education activities. MEC is also in the process of accrediting other service providers such as drama groups, road show performers, advertising agencies, poetry and musicians.
MEC has also reviewed the CVE manual for reference in educating the electorate about elections. They have reviewed and realigned ward and constituency boundaries whose final report is expected to be out soon. They developed and launched the Gender Strategy in June, 2017. Between now and March MEC intends to develop the Strategic Plan for 2018-2022. So far MEC seems to be on course with the electoral calendar.
Also of note is that MEC is pleased with the distribution of IDs by the National Registration Bureau which it will use for voter registration slated to start in April. MEC is working hand in hand with the Bureau so that those who did not register for the IDs are registered and are not disenfranchised.
But this is likely to be a sticky issue.
MEC is also identifying and training a pool of in-house Master Trainers who will be responsible for offering training to electorally election staff.
There are several more red flags that MEC needs to look into and deal with which have dogged all the previous five elections. They include hitches to do with late provision of funds. This is very crucial because successful implementation of all electoral activities hinges on the timely availability of funds.
Other activities that could derail MEC’s calendar of events and dent its image include the proposed electoral reforms. MEC, as we all know, and according to its mandate, is by and large an implementing agency. The problem is that some key electoral reforms are yet to be incorporated in its calendar of events.
Government seems to have won round one of the debacle on the electoral reforms. But by preventing the tabling of the Bills, government has only won a battle and not the war. We all know the proposed electoral reform bills are for the good of our democracy and people-driven. All indications are that what we saw in last month’s maneuverings in and outside Parliament by government is not the end of the road for the reforms.
Government should therefore not feel triumphant that it has so far thwarted the tabling of the Electoral Reform Bills. It won’t be long before we know that government’s romance with the opposition for frustrating the bills is short-lived. The Electoral Reforms Bills will come to haunt both of them. Mark my words.
All opposition members of Parliament who assisted or were complicit in frustrating the bills should also be prepared to answer difficult questions from their constituents. They have a rough road to travel.
Since MEC is on the receiving end of events, its electoral calendar should not be cast in stone. It should be prepared for any eventuality. But does it have plan B?