In this interview, our reporter Paida Mpaso engages Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) executive director Steve Duwa on the challenges facing preparations for the forthcoming 2014 tripartite polls.
Is Mesn satisfied with the voter registration so far?
As an overall assessment of the current voter registration exercise, Mesn is satisfied though certain areas should be improved by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).
QWhat are some of the challenges Mesn has noticed in as far as civic education is concerned?
Civic education in general has been delayed to roll out in all wards and constituencies due to delayed funding to accredited civil society organisations (CSOs) by development partners. Currently, the civic education is only to mobilise eligible voters to go and register. It is targeting areas currently undergoing the registration exercise and this will change as we move from one registration phase to the other.
With regards to civic education for the registration, we have also noted that in towns, people from areas adjacent to places where current registration is being done are coming out to register even though these are not their centres. This means that some people still do not know that the registration is being done in phases and that their turn will come.
QAs you rightly pointed out, donors have not funded more than 100 NGOs MEC accredited to conduct civic education. What is the impact of this on the whole electoral process?
Currently, those managing civic funds have scaled up their efforts to start disbursing them. In the next week or so, Mesn expects some of its members and non-members to get some funds. NDI [National Democratic Institute] is currently finalising processes to release funds to some accredited CSOs and the Norwegian Church Aid is also in the process [of distributing] funds to a number of faith-based organisations to roll out the civic education.
Once this is done, we expect that the next registration phases should be adequately popularised and eligible voter reached out to register. Otherwise, further delays in disbursing funds would seriously compromise efforts to mobilise eligible voters to register.
QLooking at how most organisations involved in the electoral process are struggling to get appropriate funding, is there hope for the forthcoming elections?
The electoral cycle approach requires adequate funds to allow CSOs get involved in the various electoral activities. This has not been possible for the tripartite elections and CSOs are working on the assumption that development partners will release funds soon and to a good number of accredited CSOs. For sure, as CSOs, we have not fully participated in all activities for the tripartite elections due to lack of funds. Even MEC programmes have also been affected due to inadequate and delayed approval of its budget as well as release of these funds at the time MEC required them.
QWhat has Mesn done to help some of the NGOS in these financial hiccups?
In general, Mesn has been an active stakeholder in the current electoral process through its advocacy work for harmonisation of electoral laws, pushing for accreditation of CSOs, release of the electoral calendar among many other things. Some of the challenges faced now were anticipated and, as a result, we started engaging donor partners long time ago. The problem in Malawi is that it is difficult to get resources for elections when certain things are not in place, i.e electoral calendar, accreditation, and election budget. Even now we have been actively engaging donors to support accredited CSOs.
QThere were concerns about voter apathy in the 2009 elections. What is Mesn’s projection on this? Will voter apathy be a thing of the past come May 20 2014?
Going by the slow speed at registration centers where, for example, a big centre like South Lunzu can hardly register 350 people per day, voter apathy won’t be a thing of the past. Partly, the voter apathy will be created due non registration of all eligible voters within 14 days.