It has been over a year since the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) set up a task force on electoral reforms to help ensure more efficient elections in future. In this interview with CHACHACHA MUNTHALI, MEC director of media and public relations, SANGWANI MWAFULIRWA, sheds more light on the journey so far.
How do you assess the journey travelled so far on electoral reforms since the task force on electoral reforms was formed?
The task force was formed in October 2014. Since then up to now, it has been an illustrious journey whereby we have seen 13 organisations working together to push a common agenda of electoral reforms. Since we started last year, members have been committed to pushing the reforms agenda. None resigned or withdrew on the way nor did any go out in the public to differ with fellow members. This shows the level of dedication and unity reigning in the task force. The unity of the task force has made it easy for the team to accomplish a lot within a short time and also win the confidence of stakeholders such as political parties,
To what extent have stakeholders been involved and integrated in the reform process and their views being incorporated and considered?
All stakeholders have been involved. From inception, the electoral reform issues came from the people as low as at council level. The task force has also benefitted from contributions, wisdom and expertise of various backgrounds and influence in society. The task force has met with leaders of political parties, in and outside Parliament, the Minister of Justice, the Attorney General, the Law Commissioner, members of Parliament, civil society organisations, former Speaker of Parliament and the former State president. It is contributions from all these stakeholders that have seen the electoral reforms this far whereby now the Law Commission has been tasked to do the final issues paper and draft bills on the process.
We have seen stakeholders coming in the open to express cynicism and scepticism about the reform process which some analysts fear might jeopardise the process and even make the ride for electoral reforms a tough one. How will you handle this?
In all the meetings the task force has had with stakeholders, they have expressed support to the task force and contributed advice to the task force on how to handle the electoral reforms agenda. There are many being considered for the electoral reforms and some of them have more than one possible solution. Stakeholders are bound to differ in opinion on such issues and that is the beauty of democracy. People should be free to express themselves without suppression. It is the duty of the task force that is driving the electoral reforms agenda to synthesise the issues and come up with a position which has to be legitimised with all stakeholders. A consensus on such issues is the one that will be pushed throughout the process to become law.
So far, as far as the MEC and the task force are concerned, there have been positive remarks that are giving the task force the energy to move on.
In past exercises, processes have started well, but got stuck in the process without completion. An example is the constitutional review process of 2007 whose recommendations have not been pushed to become law up to now. How sure are you that the reforms will make it throughout the process to become law?
The challenge with other initiatives in the past was that critical stakeholders were isolated and not involved from the beginning, but were put at the end to receive the reports and implement them. Often it was discovered that some fundamental mistakes or omission were occasioned in the process and the processes needed to start all over. However, this is not the case with the electoral reforms as all relevant stakeholders have been part of the process. By involving them, the task force has benefitted from their expertise which is making the ride smooth.
When the task force was formed there were fewer members than now. It was agreed that other members should be taken aboard because of their strategic importance in various stages of the process. An example is the Law Commission which has been a member of the task force and even dedicated a senior officer who has been participating in the activities of the task force from inception. This has made it a seamless process for the Law Commission to take over the process and work according to its constitutional obligation. We have the Ministry of Justice as a member for the same strategic relevance that after the Law Commission is done, the issues shall be passed on to the ministry to continue with the process. By engaging the relevant stakeholders, the task force has managed to lay a solid foundation on which everyone can contribute in building the house.
The Executive delays in processing bills to go to Parliament. On the other hand, the Parliament has a number of bills piling up, how sure are you that the electoral reforms will be prioritised so that they are implemented before 2019 elections?
Since we started the process on electoral reforms, there has been highlevel interest from all stakeholders.
The electoral reforms process is like a relay race. At every stage there is a critical player. We have set a very good tone and no one would want to be seen as stalling or derailing the process once it is in their domain to push the process. Everyone is watching on the process with keen interest. The process is being pushed in a transparent way which is open to public check and scrutiny. The reforms agenda has been set of high standard, and equally high are expectations of the public from this process. No one would want to be blamed for failure of the reforms process because of poor performance.
Once again, who are the task force members and how were they appointed?
The members are Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD), Malawi Electoral Commission, Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn), Malawi Law Commission, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, National Democratic Institute, National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice), NGO Gender Coordination Network (NGO GCN), Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The members were drawn into the task force because of their interest to pursue the electoral reforms agenda and also their strategic relevance to the process.