Embattled Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah yesterday made her first public appearance since May this year and highlighted challenges faced by electoral management bodies in the southern Africa region.
The MEC chairperson, whose head Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has been demanding in a series of demonstrations for allegedly presiding over a flawed electoral process, outlined the challenges during the official opening of the 21st Annual General Conference of Electoral Commissions Forum for Southern African Development Community (ECF-Sadc) in Blantyre.
Ansah, a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, said electoral management bodies across the region were being hampered by common challenges requiring to be dealt with expeditiously.
In her prepared speech to the 16-nation grouping, she avoided specifically commenting on Malawi’s electoral challenges. Instead, she dwelt on challenges facing electoral management bodies within the region in general.
Ansah said the challenges facing electoral management bodies include limited resources, limited independence, lack of clear mandates and issues around appointment of and tenure of commission members.
Engaging the media after the opening ceremony, she said the hosting of the conference in Malawi was pre-arranged; hence, it was only fair for MEC to host the event and that it was not necessarily an endorsement of the electoral process in the country.
Said Ansah: “We have learnt important lessons in the way we conduct elections. We know what works and we know what causes strife. We must draw upon these lessons to improve our elections by identifying the gaps and retaining the best practices. [hosting]
“We are not taking this as an endorsement because endorsements in the way our elections were handled were made through reports by various observer groups.
“Nevertheless, I do not work through public appearances. The fact that you do not usually see me does not imply that I am not working. I work at my offices at MEC headquarters.”
Looking composed, clad in an ivory-coloured cardigan over a similar colour of dress and matching shoes, Ansah became the centre of attention when she appeared from within the hotel precincts, drawing the attention of both journalists and other stakeholders.
Anti-riot police in armoured vehicles were stationed outside Sunbird Mount Soche where the week-long conference is taking place.
Entry into the hotel premises was not free-for-all as people had to go through security checks by Police Mobile Service (PMS) officers and other police departments who formed a heavy security perimeter around the hotel as delegates arrived to take part in the opening ceremony.
MEC officials and delegates from the 16 member States, including Malawi government officials and governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) functionaries, were seen around the premises moments before the guest of honour Vice-President Everton Chimulirenji arrived. He was welcomed by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Bright Msaka.
Women and youth in DPP colours were seen chanting outside the hotel fence as they waited for Chimulirenji’s arrival.
DPP secretary general Grezelder Jeffrey was in attendance during the opening ceremony although her name was not among those acknowledged in the salutations by most speakers.
Conspicuously missing at the conference were representatives of local opposition political parties, civil society organisations and the faith community.
For the first time, this year’s elections saw government footing the bulk of the elections budget unlike in previous elections which were predominantly funded by donors.
During the 2019 elections, MEC encountered some financial challenges in the run-up to the elections when in April it announced a K3.3 billion deficit out of the K44 billion ($55 million) budget where development partners committed to contribute about $5.5 million towards the elections budget.
In early May, government had to release K400 million for MEC to hire 400 trucks for the transportation of electoral materials.
In his speech, Vice-President Chimulirenji urged the electoral bodies to seriously think of ways how they can improve their operations to ensure the delivery of free, fair and credible polls.
“This is the appropriate time for all stakeholders in elections to reflect on the past by looking at the positives and negatives. We need to spend time on this and come up with practical and realistic solutions that suit our region to perform better than before,” he said.
ECF-Sadc members are meeting in a year which has already seen elections in Mauritius, South Africa and Malawi while polls in Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia are also expected later this year.
Malawi last hosted the conference, which was last year held in Lesotho, in 2002.