Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is a co-chair of the Electoral Reforms Task Force which was formed to strengthen the movement of electoral reforms and achieve the reform agenda in Malawi. In this interview, The Nation talks to MEC director of Media and Public Relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa on the progress of the reforms.
Q: After the May 2014 elections, the commission announced that it will implement electoral reforms, where is the process now?
A: The commission conducted post-mortem meetings immediately after the elections with stakeholders in all the councils across the nation. Through the meetings, the commission collected views of the public on the areas which they wanted to be considered for reforms as we prepare for the next elections in 2019. Parallel to that, the Malawi Electoral Support Network [Mesn] also conducted review meetings with stakeholders at national and regional levels. A number of views were put forward by stakeholders to be considered for reforms. To ensure that there is a coordinated way of pushing for the reforms, a national task force on electoral reforms was formed. This task has managed to conduct a national electoral reforms conference where stakeholders including political parties, government departments and agencies, civil society organisations, development partners and the MEC brainstormed on the proposals. During this conference, there were presentations from various experts on thematic areas to provide guidance to the delegates as they deliberated on the reforms.
Q: What is generally being proposed in the reforms?
A : There are many proposals that have been thrown into the discussion domain. However, from the national conference, delegates grouped the reform areas into four so that proper attention and analysis is given to every suggestion. The first group is proposals around the electoral systems like whether we should move from First- Past-The-Post [FPTP] to proportional representation. The other thematic area is focusing on the legal frame work which will encompass all reforms to do with amendment or introduction of electoral laws.
Election management is a third theme that will focus mostly on the administrative and operational side of elections like appointment of commissioners, migration to biometric registration system, participation of women in elections among others. Civic and voter education has also been put as a theme considering its crucial role in building an informed electorate that can participate in elections.
A technical working group has been formed under each theme. This group will review the proposed reforms, conduct further consultations and research before coming up with position papers on the proposals. Membership of the technical working groups is based on expertise and experience so that they can contribute effectively to the process.
Q: How have the views of stakeholders, especially the public, been incorporated in the process?
A: The commission did consultations with all stakeholders at council level across the country. The consultations by Mesn served the same purpose. That aside, talk of electoral reforms has been ongoing in the run-up to the elections and such issues when they arose they were being captured and documented. Even at the moment it is not a closed door, organisations and individuals are free to give their suggestions to MEC or Mesn which are the co-chairpersons of the national task force. The technical working groups will also further solicit views where it is deemed necessary in the process.
Q: Who is involved in the process?
A : The task force has drawn membership of all crucial stakeholders in the process and at the moment members include the MEC, Mesn, Public Affairs Committee [PAC], Centre for Multiparty Democracy [CMD], National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice), NGO Gender Coordination Network [NGO GCN], Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Malawi Law Commission, Malawi Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, United Nations Development Programme [UNDP] and the National Democratic Institute [NDI]. This is not exhaustive of all stakeholders, but it is a representative composition. Some stakeholders not in the task force have been engaged through the technical working groups.
Q: When will the process be finished?
A : With the electoral cycle adopted by the commission to elections management, it will be ideal if the reforms come into effect as soon as possible. This will give the Commission ample time to prepare for the 2019 elections. At the moment, we have just constituted the technical working groups and the experts’ reference group. The technical working groups will need to meet to reflect on the proposals and develop positions which will have to be bounced with the expert reference group. When all is done, the task force shall convene a national conference where the proposed positions shall be presented and delegates shall endorse.
Q: In some situations, organisations start reforms and then dump them with the government agencies for implementation. Since such agencies were not involved, the reforms just pile dust; will it not be the same with these reforms?
A: The task force has made it a point to engage the relevant government departments at the inception so that they are active players in the process unlike just being spectators. For example, the Ministry of Justice has dedicated one of its legal officers who will be participating in the activities of the task force which means the task force will be able to benefit from expert advice now and when the time comes to implement the reforms into law, there shall be no technical errors discovered.
Q: Your last words to all electoral stakeholders on the reforms process?
A: The reforms are for the perfection and improvement of the electoral management in the country. The task force is doing everything within its mandate and ability, but success of the process will require support from all stakeholders. If approached to help in one way or another, we expect that our stakeholders will render a supporting hand.