United Nations resident coordinator Mia Seppo has urged politicians in the country to champion electoral reforms which, in her view, have remained stagnant in spite of numerous previous recommendations.
Seppo’s response, in an interview on Wednesday, followed a suggestion Speaker of Parliament and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) vice-president Richard Msowoya made at a political rally in Kasungu on Sunday that donors must assist in electoral reforms as one way of improving governance.
Msowoya was reacting to an earlier statement by Seppo—published in Nation on Sunday—that Malawian politicians must stop politicking and focus on issues that would promote peace in the country.
In the interview, Seppo said: “Elections are a sovereign event…development partners can promote, encourage and support an opportunity for Malawians to look critically at reform issues, [but] it is principally Malawi’s political parties and politicians that must forge the necessary consensus to determine and enact reforms for positive change.”
Seppo further said elections need to evolve in response to the changing circumstances of the nation, observing that many recommendations for electoral reforms have not been implemented.
“In fact, it appears that almost 80 percent of the reforms currently being discussed have been raised as key issues in the past,” said Seppo.
At the Kasungu rally, Msowoya had said the electoral system has loopholes which can be manipulated for the benefit of one party, citing delays in announcing official results by the national tally centre.
But Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education, Jappie Mhango, disputed that results can be tampered with along the way to the national tally centre because counting of votes at polling centres is done in the presence of party monitors who sign for the results before they are dispatched.
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa confirmed that a taskforce on electoral reforms has been set up with a mandate to seek suggestions from stakeholders.
Professor Blessings Chinsinga, a lecturer in political science at Chancellor College, expressed reservations with MEC’s capacity to implement reforms due to human resources constraints as well as limited trust among Malawians.
“It is not as if we don’t know what we need…what is happening is that when a party is outside government, it asks for electoral reforms, but when it gets into power such talk is ignored,” he said.
According to Seppo, a national electoral task force to consolidate a consensus around key issues of electoral reform was formed last year and since a national conference in December 2014, it has been undertaking consultations, technical reviews and engagements with political parties to discuss and refine the reforms.
She further said that several development partners, namely Department for International Development (DfID), the European Union, Ireland and Norway are supporting the task force through a UNDP-managed basket fund.