Malawi Congress Party(MCP) on Saturday expressed a vote of no confidence in Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn), describing the civil society organisation’s (CSO) conduct during the May 20 Tripartite Elections as deplorable.
MCP secretary general Gustave Kaliwo expressed his party’s sentiments during a two-day National Conference on Electoral Reforms held under the theme ‘Fostering Genuine Democratic Processes and Outcomes in Malawi’ in Lilongwe.
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and Mesn are key leaders, as they co-chair a national task force on electoral reforms.
Said Kaliwo as the conference drew towards the end: “We [in MCP] are attending this conference under protest.”
He said his party chose to prove a point by not attending a similar Post-Election Review Conference, to which it was invited, in June this year, at the same venue.
Kaliwo explained that MCP was deeply hurt by the conduct of Mesn during the May 20 Tripartite Elections, which turned out to be controversial because of vote-rigging allegations and other irregularities.
When Mesn went ahead to author a May 24 press release that projected President Peter Mutharika, then a presidential hopeful for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), as the election winner, when MEC had only officially acknowledged 30 percent of unverified poll results, “we took exception to that”, added Kaliwo.
Declared Kaliwo: “We, in MCP, take exception to Mesn leading the process of electoral reforms. We need a better body to do this work… As MCP, we want to participate in a system that is inclusive and credible.”
The shock and silence in the room were pronounced. Even Henry Chingaipe, as a moderator, admitted that MCP’s position of virtually showing no confidence in Mesn, a key leader in the electoral process, was beyond his competence of charting the way forward.
But Chingaipe strategically broke the ice when he said everyone must take note that even if Mesn and MEC are co-leaders in the process, the agenda is being driven by a multi-stakeholder group that includes the voices and wishes of all parties in Malawi.
Responding to MCP’s concerns, MEC chairperson Maxon Mbendera eased the tension further by stating that MCP or any other stakeholder in the May election deserves the right to vent anger and frustration over the many unfortunate occurrences.
Said Mbendera: “There are many things that we could have done better in the elections. I wish I could reverse the hands of time. But my earnest request is that we should focus on the future and not on the past.”
Mbendera, who is a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, owned up that MEC is so broke that it is even failing to pay drivers who faithfully served it before and after the polls.
He added that MEC is grateful that, nonetheless, Mesn has partnered with it to undertake the critical process of spearheading electoral reforms that will make election processes and results more credible and fairer in future.
He explained that MEC or Mesn cannot take unilateral decisions on any key issues in the ongoing process that offers all Malawians their voices.
Mbendera said he noticed, and agonised, when MCP boycotted the June talks.
“But to the extent that you [MCP officials] are now here, we are surely making progress. Let us move forward. Let’s do what needs to be done,” he passionately pleaded, drawing a round of applause and even a mild smile from Kaliwo.
Earlier in the day, Dr Ngeyi Kanyongolo’s presentation on ‘Gender Mainstreaming in the Electoral Cycle’ drew a lively debate, and much laughter, especially on the issue of women being used as dancers for politicians.
The meeting generally acknowledged that the women who dance at political rallies are not forced to do so and are merely following a tradition of expressing happiness and pride for people or a special function.
Kanyongolo sent the participants into laughter when she said the women dancers could exert influence and extract substantive gains if, for example, they could put their feet down and tell the politicians: “We refuse to dance for you until we have a 50-50 representation in the leadership of our party.”
Commenting on suggestions that activists should teach women not to fight against one another when jostling for power, as was the case in some constituencies where five women contestants stood, Gender Coordination Network chairperson Emma Kaliya replied: “Why is it that when women contest, or debate, even in Parliament, it is called fighting, but when men do the same, it is not fighting?”
On suggestion that there be quotas that could ensure that more women went into Parliament, Kaliya regretted that such considerations, in other countries, have attracted derogative statements, including calling the act as “wheel-chairing women into Parliament.”