Honourable Folks, the other day I asked a friend of mine who is quite senior at the Malawi Electoral Commission secretariat if they are worried that it’s less than a year to our first-ever tripartite polls yet there’s very little, if any, sign of serious preparations on the ground.
We’ve been witnesses to bloody post-election violence in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Cote d’Ivoire to know the high cost of handling the electoral process in a laissez-faire manner. Declaring a winner, especially in the presidential race, from disputed polls lacking in credibility and fairness, can cost innocent lives and disrupt the peace which is the bedrock for development.
The MEC official obviously did not fully think through my concern. The explanation given was that tripartite elections aren’t that much more complicated than the general elections we’ve been successfully holding every five years since 1994.
In the general elections, explained the MEC official, voters are first given the ballot with names, pictures and symbols for the presidential candidates. After casting their votes, the voters then get another ballot paper with names, pictures, etc., of their parliamentary candidates. The only difference is that in 2014, the electorate will have to cast another ballot for their ward councillor.
There’s no denying this is doable. The issue, however, isn’t so much on how to cast the vote as it is on ensuring that one is not disenfranchised even after participating fully in the elections.
This is the issue in Malawi where more than 80 percent of the population is rural-based. It is a fact that it’s in rural areas where illiteracy is more concentrated and the majority of these illiterate folks are adults of the voting age (more than 18 years).
If these folks must reap tangible results from the electoral process, they need adequate voter education so as to know how to cast their votes properly and avert casting the null and void ballots. If, for any reason, other than their own recklessness, their votes are rejected, that’s tantamount to being disenfranchised.
But coming from a background of putting into office the deadwood who have grossly failed in adding value to the agenda of national development and poverty reduction, it would be desirable that the 2014 elections be preceded by an intensive civic education so that it can bring about change that we can believe in.
Unless in 2014 we can retire useless elected leaders who rose on tribal, regional, political or religious grounds, replacing them with leaders who can think outside the box, are able and willing to put national above personal interests and have an upright character, we may not be part of Africa which claims to be in the 21st century.
Just to put things in perspective: Our neighbour, Zambia, has graduated into the middle income group. According to records by the Bretton Woods institutions, Mozambique and Tanzania are very much on course along the same direction.
Malawi, a shining star between 2005 and 2010 with an economy which at a certain point was the second fastest growing after that of Qatar, is now grappling, not with growth, but with putting a derailed economy back on course.
Some may consider it in bad taste to stress this while campaign for the 2014 elections is building to a crescendo, but, if the truth be told, our economy got derailed more by bad political decisions than anything else. We’ll be foolish to allow a continuation of “more of the same.”
Which is why, successful polls shouldn’t just be those where the electorate cast the ballot paper correctly. The polls should help Malawians put in place the right people who can lead us to claiming our place on the map of blooming Africa.
To achieve this and deny disgruntled losers any excuse for resorting to violence, MEC needs to get right every step of the electoral process. In 2009, the voter register was a mess despite having more than a year and resources to clean up the voters’ roll. Will MEC get it perfectly right in less than 12 months this time?
To achieve successful elections, voters also need to know the A to Z of the candidates they will be voting for and the A to Z of the voting procedure. Failure to achieve this will result in voters making uninformed choices, thereby being effectively disenfranchised. Can all this be done for tripartite elections in less than 12 months?