In any democracy, elections are one of the indicators of people’s participation and freedom to decide their destiny.
The wind of democracy swept across Africa in the early 1990s, giving citizens the power to choose their leaders through a ballot.
Free and fair elections give mandate and legitimacy to winners. According to political scientist Staffan I. Lindaberg’s Democracy and Elections in Africa, elections facilitate the institutionalisation and deepening of actual civil liberties in a society and casual value in democratisation.
But since the dawn of multiparty politics, African elections are just a symbolic process in an electoral calendar. Most State broadcasters favour ruling parties and institutions which administer elections are not really independent.
Presently, Malawians seem to have lost trust in the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) which requires urgent reforms that have been pending for years. This has resulted in lower turnout of voters than the attendance in the first post-dictatorship election in 1994.
Last year, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana and Malawi went to polls.
However, opposition parties in Malawi and Mozambique are challenging the results.
Locally, all eyes are on the Constitutional Court, where two presidential candidates—Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima—want the judges to nullify President Peter Mutharika’s re-election in May 2019 because of irregularities.
Since the polls, protesters convened by human rights defenders have been demanding the resignation of MEC chairperson Jane Ansah.
According to Ansah, MEC received 147 complaints before announcing the incumbent as the winner with 38 percent of the valid votes. Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) got 35 percent of the votes and UTM Party’s Chilima had 20 percent.
Although international observers said the elections were free and fair, the question is how credible were they?
It is high time that African institutions started taking the lead in determining whether elections can be trusted by all. There is a need for a thorough stakeholder analysis framework of network governance, unlike the current situation international observers endorse elections based on what they see in a short while.
Since elections are a vital pillar of democracy, countries must enhance governance institutions such as MEC by appointing competent individuals to manage free and fair elections.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions calls on countries to build effective institutions, that will be accountable and enhance the integrity and trust of the electorate by promoting people’s voices through a participatory process.
With many electoral disputes going to court, Parliaments in Africa should strengthen the independence of the judiciaries by allocating adequate funding for them to function smoothly.
For credible elections and a strong democracy, the participation of all stakeholders needs to be enhanced to improve service delivery and promote good governance. It is important for the electoral bodies to develop a process which will involve citizens’ voices and participation to enhance transparency and accountability of the election.
Civic education and engagement should be coordinated in a timely manner to provide the citizens and all stakeholders in the electoral calendar the capacity to participate effectively.
In any democracy, communication is paramount. Citizens need to be well informed of all the processes involved during elections. Access to information is important for people to trust the electoral management body.
If elections do not give hope to Africans hit hard by poverty, the continent should be prepared for unrest, uprisings and protests.
Elections should reflect the will of the people and install governments with the capacity to make policies that will accelerate the race for global goals to end hunger and poverty. After all, the electorate want democracy to achieve development beyond five-year term limits. We owe it to future generations.