Malawi is going to hold tripartite elections in May 2014. However, some quarters, including donors, have expressed concern over progress in preparation for the elections. Our reporter ALBERT SHARRA talks to Nancy Tembo, chairperson of the Media Civic and Voter Education Committee for Malawi Electoral Commission (EC) about this and other issues.
Q: The elections are just one year away. How prepared is the EC for them?
A: The Electoral Commission is laying the ground work in preparation for the general elections. We have done demarcation of wards, we have accredited Civic and Voter Education (CVE) providers and done mapping. We are currently in the process of recruiting Constituency CVE Assistants and Stringers. In the next fortnight, we should finalise our CVE strategy. We have submitted to the Executive a package of proposed amendments to the electoral laws and these should be deliberated in Parliament in the next sitting. Preliminary discussions on the 2014 Tripartite Budget have been concluded and we are confident that Parliament will pass it.
Q: How hard is it preparing for tripartite elections compared to the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections we have been holding in the past?
A: Obviously tripartite elections are much more complex than the PPE because while in the past, we were only dealing with 193 constituency races plus the presidential race, we now have an additional load of about 444 ward races [for councillors] and that brings with it huge logistical and resource mobilisation.
However, I have to assure the nation that Electoral Commission is doing its best to ensure everything goes as planned. We are calling for support of all players, including the media, to contribute their roles effectively for the achievement of the one goal; to have the first but successful tripartite elections.
Q: Government set aside tentatively K18 billion (about $45m) for the elections, with the continued depreciation of the kwacha, will this be enough by the time we get to the elections?
A: Yes, the preliminary budget is at K18 billion (about $45m). We all know how the kwacha is behaving and all major funders of the elections will be paying close attention to the value of the kwacha. I believe without doubt that they would intervene if the EC requires additional resources.
Q: Donors such as EU have expressed concern over the pace at which EC is preparing for the elections. What is your comment?
A: The most important thing that should be noted is that we are not working independently towards the elections. We are working very closely with the EU and other funders and they understand our challenges.
It should be observed that we are still carrying several activities and one of them was the stakeholders meeting held on Friday in Blantyre. The purpose is to ensure we are moving in the same track with everyone, including the funders of the elections.
Q: Generally, most Malawians are said to be unfamiliar of the concept of tripartite elections, some do not even know next year’s elections will be tripartite. How much sensitisation have you done or are you planning to do to ensure people know what they will do at the ballot?
A: The EC is aware of the need to sensitise the public to the tripartite elections and hence, will launch the CVE strategy in the next fortnight which will start a massive CVE campaign. We want to commend media houses and CSOs that have already kicked off the sensitisation campaign. We have travelled across the country and visited some radio stations, including community radios. We have seen that they are running various programmes on the elections and we commend them for this.
However, we expect a lot once we launch the strategy because this will mark the massive CVE campaign in a way that it will guide the CVE campaigners on how to carry their activities. The strategy is important because it guides the educators on how they should design their programmes, information and choice of other materials to use during the campaign.
Q: One of the sticky issues regarding the EC in as far as presidential elections are concerned, is its independence. Is the EC independence and what measures do you have in place to ensure that your services are not prone to abuse?
A: The independence of the EC is guaranteed by the laws of Malawi. The laws of the country are clear on how EC should behave in any elections. The commission will conduct itself in accordance with the law.
Q: Any last word?
A: The EC will do everything in its power to create an electoral environment that is conducive to free, fair and credible elections. However, the EC also believes that it is the responsibility of all stakeholders to play their role in line with democratic principles. Elections are everybody’s responsibility and we need to work as a team.