26 April 2014

Malawi: CSO Grand Coalition Worried Over Electoral Hitches

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CSO GRAND COALITION ISSUE PAPER CONCERNS ON THE ROAD TO 20TH MAY TRIPARTITE ELECTIONS AND OUR CONTINUED WORRIES IN THE GOVERNANCE OF MALAWI REGARDLESS OF THE FORTHCOMING ELECTIONS.

1.0. PREAMBLE

We, members of the CSOs Grand Coalition under the leadership of CONGOMA are making this public statement to express our serious worries, anxiety and concerns over some emerging trends and challenges in some processes related to the electoral events on the road towards the 2014 tripartite elections.

As Malawian CSOs, we seek to inform Malawian citizens and raise awareness to various stakeholders and the general citizenry in the governance processes of the elections to our noted concerns so as to generate debate and honest dialogue that will ensure credible, free, fair, transparent and peaceful electoral processes before, during and after May 2014.

We make this statement realizing our enormous responsibility on the governance of the elections and on the general governance of this country. Further, we cannot and shall not remain silent when injustices, acts of intolerance, acts of imbalances, actions of omissions and commissions, among many other issues are crippling the electoral processes leading to seemingly shrinking prospects of having free, fair, peaceful and credible elections. We, also confirm our understanding about the significance of the 2014 tripartite elections in relation to the socio-economic and political development of this country.

Ours is a continued commitment to giving a platform to the voiceless since we continue to note that Malawians especially those in the rural areas cannot speak out their concerns on the way elections preparations are being handled just like their voices are not well organized to be heard by those in leadership positions.

2.0. MAJOR CONCERNS ON THE ROAD TO 20TH MAY TRIPARTITE ELECTIONS

1. Unsettled voters' registration figures/ statistics. MEC has received complaints in numerous NECOF meetings to harmonize figures and provide justification to the total of 7, 500,000 registered voters. Many stakeholders feel this figure is on the higher side and may imply deliberate bloating of the figures to the advantage of someone or some political party. Furthermore, recent media reports still show that this is remaining a contentious issue; if unresolved, it leaves a lot to speculation as to what the real figures are , and if bloated, what the intention is. This may translate into some electoral stakeholders failing to accept results. We therefore propose that there is time for MEC to conduct voters roll audit to authenticate this unsettled figure.

2. Unconvincing voter verification exercise: Malawians deserve more quality work and approach to the voters roll verification exercise. With minimal and limited publicity of the process coupled with the postponement of the process and its subsequent resumption without concrete reasons given to the public; poor organization and poorly managed verification exercise will affect the acceptability of anticipated polling results. Missing details of many people will further disfranchise the voters. This we, note, is critical for more reflection by MEC to sustain trust and confidence in the electoral preparatory processes.

3. Unequal playing field through the abuse of the public broadcasters favoring PP; Use of public resources conducting political rallies under the banner of development rallies whilst we observe that public resources which are supposed to serve government assignments are being used in political rallies across the nation. Government motor vehicles and human resource have been spotted in political rallies some of which have their number plates replaced with ordinary number plates for the public not to recognize them. The abuse of public resources and power is not only uncalled for but also gives an added advantage to the ruling party while other political parties do not have similar privileges.

4. MEC's statement that all people that have voters ID will vote is our concern especially when fake voter IDs have been produced as evidenced by numerous cases reported in the media. Similarly, the MEC's mobilization message that those that need help in casting their ballot on the polling day shall be assisted by MEC officials is out rightly false and must be stopped right away. Such voters in need of help shall be assisted by people of their choice as the laws indicate.

5. It's also worrisome that there is an emergence of government oriented NGOs (GONGOs) like Forum for National Development that is accorded lump sum of airtime on TV and radio to castigate other accredited CSOs, other political players including MEC itself. This shows that such a grouping is financed by government to deal with its perceived enemies or political competitors. It is proper that CSOs or NGOs should not be abused by being enticed to abandon their own code of conduct for the sake of providing political mileage to any given political party.

6. We further note that there is deliberate propaganda to undermine the leadership of the Malawi Electoral Commission through fake bank deposit slips stories. We assume those writing these stories and sources of such stories would want to discredit the enormous work being done by MEC, regardless of its challenges here and there. Those behind such incidents should be ashamed and allow for independence of MEC to run the elections freely.

7. We are also worried that MEC has opted to adopt additional but peripheral roles to the electoral processes like organizing national prayers when it has essential core functions (like cleaning up the voters roll) that they can concentrate their resources and energies on. Despite that we all know that Malawi is God fearing nation, in many people, this is creating the perception that MEC within its over-stretched personnel and resources would have left this task to Faith institutions and that it would have concentrated its energies in sorting out challenges dogging the voters roll verification exercise not overlooking other contemporary burning electoral issues.

8. Political parties' campaign manifestos have been launched by many political parties. This consolidates the intended issue-based campaign and issue-based civic education processes. However, not all political parties contesting have made their manifestos public; we also doubt that some development success stories proclaimed by some party manifestos like the PP are indeed belonging to their regime achievements. Issues like Karonga road, BICC, and many others are being politicized for cheap propaganda; we further note that some pockets of political violence are due to not aligning the campaign massages to the political parties' manifestos, a sad development that takes away our trust in believing that these leaders, once elected, will ever live the lives of their manifestos.

9. Declaration of presidential candidates indicating that they will surely win elections and insinuating that a ruling party never loses is a worrisome trend. PP through its Secretary General, in the last NECOF meeting assured all electoral stakeholders that PP will never use this slogan, but Alas! Many PP party leaders are daily using this slogan. PP's spokesperson defended this slogan; and the 23rd April Nation Newspaper article by Mavuto Banda quotes the president of PP in an overconfident mood of winning the May 20 elections seemingly to corrupt the mindset of Malawians. This is further anchored by false and fake opinion polls conducted on social media links showing PP winning notwithstanding MBC using this anonymous poll to the public. Please let us desist from corrupting the citizens' minds so that they vote with a clean conscience for their leaders of next five years.

10. Violence going unpunished as perpetrated in Karonga central and other places. The role of MEC and police in this takes away the confidence in decisively dealing with electoral related violence. Specifically in Karonga, we have heard starting from when primary elections were conducted, violence scenes till now during the official campaigning period. Michael Usi's disrupted public lecture and many other politically oriented abductions and public threats going on are worrisome.

11. Endorsement of presidential candidates especially the ruling PP candidate by Chiefs during the so called development rallies is a worrisome situation considering that chiefs are supposed to be apolitical.

12. The recent report from MACRA that almost 83% of print and electronic private and public media houses are covering PP is worrying considering the existence of other political players. If true, this may imply that there is a heinous plan between PP and media houses to eclipse the other political parties. This further deepens the wider speculation about possible collusion between different media house, CSOs and PP on infecting the nation with only PP propaganda and news. A level playing field is needed and this can be achieved, in part, through balanced media coverage to all political parties contesting in these elections.

2.1. THE EMERGING PICTURE

What we are seeing on this road to 20th May tripartite elections is a clumsy picture with the following pointers:

I. There are serious doubts about the authenticity of the 7,500,000 registered figures, yet a poor voters' roll verification exercise notwithstanding, nothing by authorities is happening to authenticate this. Are the registered figures not a launch-pad for rigging? There is no responsibility being taken to address this. As already said, this has an implication on the acceptability of electoral results.

II. There is a questionable capacity of MEC in handling tripartite elections processes as from registration process, equipment and data capturing have been faulty till the voter verification process. If not deliberate to aid a rigging process, we have serious doubts to the efficacy and effectiveness to deliver credible electoral results.

III. Cases of buying and selling or photocopying of voters ID cards on the increase in Chikwawa, Mangochi, Kasungu, Lilongwe-Kawale, Lilongwe- Kiboko hotel (According to media reports)- these have not been dealt with completely. If police and MEC cannot conclude these cases, then people are very worried such occurrences may be consolidating the fears of rigging which is a recipe for unacceptability of electoral results.

IV. If MEC is failing to deal with registration data that they captured sometime back without pressure, how do they manage polling data that is needed to make a decision within limited time of 8 days

2.2. IMPLICATIONS

In view of the above picture, we believe MEC and other key stakeholders need to know that:

1. Credibility of elections is not a one off thing but it must be seen in all the preparatory processes ending up in announcing the results.

2. With shrinking confidence in the elections management body, it could be a recipe for voter apathy or for post electoral violence.

3. Loss of confidence and trust in the elections management body means acceptability of results will be a challenge and can sometime be a source of civil unrest.

4. Key electoral stakeholders like opposition parties can demand MEC to account for certain actions before their participation in the polling processes in so doing delaying what would have been a smooth and time bound process.

2.3. OUR DEMANDS ON ELECTORAL ISSUES/ CHALLENGES:

We members of the Civil Society Grand Coalition strongly demand that drastic and punitive measures should be put in place in order to wake up from the lethargy those responsible leaders that appear to be sleeping. As such, we call for immediate updated information on the voters roll verification exercise, the cleaning of the voters roll and its subsequent publication and dissemination to the public, MEC to conduct the audit of the voters roll to regain credibility. We also call upon MEC to ask the police and judiciary to expedite the investigations of rumours of voter ID purchases or photocopying and conclude them so that the nation knows what actually was happening before polling. We further call upon political parties, if need be, to seek legal mitigation measures to reinforce MEC to comply with best practices in ensuring a leveled playing field and stop the abuse of state resources; among many other possible avenues.

3.0. OUR WORRIES REGARDLESS OF THE FORTHCOMING TRIPARTITE ELECTIONS.

Whilst the nation is gripped with elections fever, we members of the CSO Grand Coalition further note that processes for ensuring transparency and accountability by various stakeholders are being buried in the ground. But we would like to remind the nation and the general citizenry that despite the elections, as a nation, the challenges below keep on dogging our nation's economic development and political sovereignty. We reiterate that these issues remain worrisome concerns not to be forgotten, no matter what.

1. There are still challenges on principles of Transparency and accountability e.g. In cashgate, jetgate where details are scanty, contradictory, hidden and no tangible progress seems to be made. These two issues involve our public money and we must continue to get concerned.

2. The role of parliament in ensuring accountability and transparency got diminished by choosing to dissolve parliament without discussing these two issues and other issues concerning the nation. If the role of parliament is compromised, then the essence of representative democracy is taken away.

3. The role of the judiciary in promoting transparency, accountability and justice for all in case of cashgate is noted to be not clear and ambiguous in part. Whilst courts cannot be pushed to conclude cases in the context of non interference, we rather are seeing a scenario in which court cases like cash-gate ones, are handled with intentions to take ages before they are concluded. We need responsiveness in the justice and judiciary sector as justice delayed is justice denied.

4. Constitutional provisions and the failure to respect them i.e. Section 65, Section 64, poor weak legislative levels of parliament leading into few laws those sponsored by government continuing to see the light in parliament whilst many other bills are gathering dust because the executive is not committed. There is still more work to be done here.

5. The role of the executive in muzzling spaces for effective and meaningful engagement towards transparency and accountability as it is co-opting CSO leaders into its systems and structures that subsequently become silent, the recruitment of members of parliament into the same especially those from the opposition so that government has majority voice on all issues is a continuing sad development of our country.

6. Lack of responsible and active citizenry. We sadly continue to see citizens that still await CSO leaders, Faith leaders and few Opinion leaders to champion their cause for fighting injustices. If only few leaders are left to do the work, it will not be possible to champion the cause for justice; therefore, all citizens must take up their mantle and get involved and engaged in the work on justice and better governance for mother Malawi.

7. Impact of cash-gate scandal on institutions of service delivery is all there for all to see. Drug shortages, dysfunctional health facilities, and almost a grounded government operating structure. We cannot sit idle while manmade poverty is taking peoples' lives yet some few Malawians are getting richer at our expense. So Malawians must wake up to challenge this practice and behavior.

8. Constitutional reforms are needed to revise the following Acts so that they resonate with the current political discourse: MBC act, Political Party funding Act, MACRA Act, the Chiefs Act, the extractives legal framework among many others.

9. Careless selling of land to foreign companies and individuals is taking away our land forever. It is critical to put mechanism on how Malawian land can be sold to other people to avoid regretting in the nearest future.

10. Over-reliance on donors and multilateral financial institutions still remains a menace in our politics and needs to be considered as an old model of running national governments. We need to push for the radical change of perception and change of direction.

3.1. EMERGING PICTURE:

Due to these issues above, we note the following picture starring at us: Resigned to fate citizens with little activism, government becoming insincere and non responsive to the demands of citizens and CSOs, opposition parties seem to get satisfied with peoples support without doing serious home work on alternatives to current processes; economic and livelihoods of people are getting worse and eroded away. It seems instead of building the systems and structures of governance that ought to anchor self realization and reliance, we are consolidating politics of the belly and of handouts to continuously trap the poor in abject poverty.

4.0. RECOMMENDATIONS AND WAY FORWARD

Malawians must collectively take up their rightful role as citizens of this nation to engage leaders in different institutions to ensure responsiveness and activism on the main challenges facing this country; similarly, the elections issues must be ardently tackled to restore confidence levels and credibility of the anticipated electoral results. We have one Malawi and as our only nation, we must come together and work together to build one nation where peace, justice, truthfulness and responsiveness reign.

5.0. CONCLUSION

The Grand Coalition of CSOs in Malawi under the banner of CONGOMA we, would like to support the initiative by Malawi Electoral Support Network on its efforts to observe Tripartite elections through the Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT), the long term and short term observer observation and the Malawi Election Information Centre (MEIEC) Projects. We call upon all election stakeholders especially MEC and Political parties to support these efforts as well.

Finally we, categorically raises these issues to demand dialogue, debate and action on these issues. Better governance is a recipe for a socio-economically developed nation just like better management of elections processes, is a recipe for a legitimate government for all. Long live Malawi, long live peace!

Signed on behalf of the CSO Grand Coalition by:

Mr. Voice Pearson Mhone

CONGOMA Chairperson 25/04/14

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