Two weeks ago, the Malawi Electoral Commission’s (MEC) announced the postponement of by-elections in Lilongwe City South East and Lilongwe Msozi North constituencies, Dedza and Lilongwe wards. MEC said the postponement was due to lack of funding from Treasury. Our reporter NELLIE JOBO caught up with Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) chairperson STEVE DUWA on their take on the issue. Excerpts:
MEC has postponed by-elections in Lilongwe City South East and Lilongwe Msozi North constituencies, Dedza and Lilongwe wards due to lack of funding. Isn’t it time MEC gained financial independence to avoid such inconvenience?
The need for MEC to have financial independence is urgent considering the challenges it faces to implement its programmes. Realising this need the National Task Force on Electoral Reforms prioritised this issue and we are happy that the report by the special commission on the review of electoral laws has taken that on board; it is among the recommendations to government and Parliament. What is needed is for both government and Parliament to also prioritise it as it considers all the recommendations from the Special Law Commission on the review of electoral laws.
Do you think MEC is right to cancel the by-elections?
The MEC has given reasons for the postponement of these by-elections and major the reason is that government has prioritised its funds towards more pressing national issues and this is a valid reason for MEC to postpone the by-elections otherwise how does it proceed without funds?
What gaps do you note that need to be addressed in MEC’s administration?
Considering the challenges MEC faces on funding it would be advisable for the pollster leadership to be engaging government at highest level and lobby for speedy releases of funds to the MEC.
Will making MEC financially independent help promote democracy and good governance?
Yes, because the commission will be able to implement its programmes without hiccups as is the case now.
With the current financial situation do you think MEC is ready to implement 50+ 1 voting system in preparation for 2019 tripartite elections?
You have raised an important question which Malawians should seriously indeed consider. In the event that this recommendation by the Special Law Commission on the review of electoral laws becomes a law [50 plus one] the election budget will soar up.
Election experts maintain that a country requires 20 percent of an initial election budget to cater for the re-run. For instance, if the budget for the normal election is K20 billion MEC will need an additional 20 percent of K20 billion in case of the second round. The argument for Malawi should then be, how does the country finance such a budget when it is failing to fund a budget of K400 million for by- elections?
In the case of MEC and 2019 elections time is critical, the sooner the law on 50+1 is enacted the better for MEC to include in its budget for 2019 and for those to fund the polls to consider, otherwise if this law comes into effect few months to the elections it will be a challenge to raise the funds.
Citizens have argued that appointment of MEC board members and executives should be based on academic and professional credentials not presidential prerogative. What is your take on this issue?
Mesn has been part of the team, even leading the electoral reform process alongside MEC before the Law Commission took over, all the recommendations put forward by the Special Law Commission are informed by the reports the national task force on electoral reforms submitted to the Law Commission on 29th January 2016, therefore, we as Mesn support the recommendations on the appointment of MEC commissioners.n