With about two weeks before the start of voter registration exercise, most civil society organisations (CSOs) accredited by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to carry out voter and civic education campaigns have no funding.
This has raised concerns that failure to provide timely funding for the exercise, a fundamental phase of the electoral process which is usually funded by both local and international development partners, may compromise next year’s elections.
But MEC has said they are aware that some CSOs they accredited may face challenges to get funding as such they have already covered the gap by intensifying their own efforts to reach out to the electorates.
Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) and National Elections System Network (Nest), some of the key electoral stakeholders, complained in separate interviews that delays to fund the CSOs will have a bearing on the credibility of the elections.
Mesn chairperson Steve Duwa said: “The understanding was that we will be participating in the activities of the electoral calendar starting with the voter registration and if we don’t participate there will be a gap and will certainly have an impact on the overall elections.
“The fact that almost all the accredited CSOs have not been funded already it means our participation in mobilising the electorate will be limited as such not many potential voters will be reached out.”
On his part, Nest executive director Unandi Banda said the outcome of the polls and indeed the credibility of the entire process may be questionable.
“But we believe some development partners will come to the rescue of these CSOs sooner than later so that they help in voter registration campaign which is one of the critical activities if we are to have a credible election,” he said.
So far, a few organisations are conducting the voter registration awareness such as the National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust.
But reacting to the fears, MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said the commission was using a multifaceted approach and was already on the ground in all the districts covered in the first phase.
He said, among the meetings that are taking place in all councils at traditional authority (T/A) level, they have also deployed direct marketing communications that are using drama and edutainment to spread messages.
“We have also employed 193 constituency civic and voter education assistants that have been placed in all the constituencies. They are working with community structures to spread messages about voter registration. We are optimistic as MEC that as we go through the registration period some CSOs will get funding and join the cause,” he said.
Mwafulirwa also said MEC accredited organisations that already have structures and are operational and this has provided an opportunity for some CSOs to implement zero cost civic and voter education as they are doing outreach through their other existing programmes.
“By this we are making big strides and narrowing the gap that could have been there because of funding,” he said.
During the 2009 elections, CSOs benefitted from the electoral trust fund that was created by development partners under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the funding was being disbursed to them through MEC. But in 2014 polls, the CSOs sourced funding independently from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) that was supported by DfID.
Just like the previous election, this year UNDP has indicated it will not provide funding directly to the CSOs for civic and voter education campaigns because it has already provided funds to MEC through the electoral support basket fund project.
Commenting on the development, Chancellor College (Chanco) political scientist Father Boniface Tamani said the voter registration exercise was significant to avoid prejudices towards the whole electoral process.
He said: “It is important that the process is monitored throughout because if every process is satisfactory it means you have prepared the ground for credible results. Of course there are so many things that will happen in between but for the results to be credible you start from now so it is important that CSOs be funded.
“Again, if they are not funded they should volunteer to work without always looking at money. It is our own process as Malawians and where there is need to sacrifice we should be able to do so for the sake of our country.”n