Malawi: MEC to Invite Foreign Observers for Malawi Fresh Poll Despite Shameful Role in Tippex Election

29 March 2020

Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah has extended invitation to foreign election observers to monitor this year's crucial fresh presidential election despite that they praised May 2019 dodgy elections which were nullified by the court.

Ansah: Extend invitations to both local and international observers EU Elections observers

The hordes of international election observers - including European Union, Commonwealth and African Union - who descended on Malawi during last year's tippexed polls pronounced the election free and fair, bar a few mild criticisms.

But speaking in Mangochi during the second National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting-- which drew together political party representatives and electoral stakeholders, Ansah said they will invite foreign and local observers to participate in the fresh presidential election earmarked for July 2 2020.

"To guarantee transparency and credibility of the process, every political party and candidate shall have the right to monitor each phase of the electoral process. They shall do so through designated representatives," said Ansah during Necof which was held to share activities the electoral body has planned following the launch of the elections last Tuesday in Blantyre.

"The Commission shall also extend invitations to both local and international observers," she said.

UTM Party leader Saulos Chilima and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential hopeful Lazarus Chakwera, who successfully challenge the May 2019 elections in court have been critical of foreign election observers.

"For international observers, if what they are going to continue to do is election tourism, we should scrap it. It is no better than a cartel protecting each other. But if we want to continue with them, let's redefine their role. It should not be a tick-the-box exercise," Chilima said when unanimous decision by all five judges of the constitution court On February 3 ordered that fresh elections be held within 150 days.

July 2, the designated polling day for fresh elections will be the 149th day as ordered by court.

Chakwera is equally critical about what foreign election observer missions do.

"They scratch the surface, and yet they think they know what they are doing. Almost like an exercise in futility and all they want to do is maintain the status quo and find excuses for things that are going wrong and are actually pushing the country deeper in the mire. This thing could have been arrested a long time ago. If it had not been for the court, we would have continued without change, and these missions would keep recommending the same things over and over again," he said.

According to a report by Greg Mills when heads the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation, the problem is that observer missions with personnel who have other commitments and limited budgets, leave the scene after voting and criticism by the opposition of dodgy counting is dismissed as the whingeing of sore losers.

"It takes a court ruling such as that of Malawi's constitutional judges to demonstrate how shallow and toothless the election observers were. They played their role in conferring legitimacy and then left Malawians to deal with the mess," Mills wrote in his report.

He argues that the Constitutional Court ruling should be a lesson in humility for observers, and a message to replace political observation with technical monitoring.

The European Union's Election Observation Mission had 83 observers in the nullified polls reporting from 342 polling stations in 27 of the 28 districts of Malawi.

Their finding, released on the day of the election, 21 May 2019, makes for astonishing reading. The statement was released under the headline: "Well-managed, inclusive, transparent and competitive elections, but the campaign was marked by tensions and an unlevel playing field."

The EU went on to state: "The process was largely well organised by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and voting on election day was well-managed."

Perhaps most astonishing of all were the comments of Chief Observer, Miroslav Poche, who went so far as to say: "Of particular note was the improved integrity of the voter register, a revised and public election calendar and the creation of constituency tally centres."

Equally out of touch was the Commonwealth Observer Group led by the former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki, heading a group of "12 eminent persons" from across the Commonwealth, heaped praise on the election after votes were cast, saying it had been handled with "professionalism and dedication".

Both the EU and Commonwealth pronouncements were made after voting, but before tallying had been completed.

Arnold Tsunga the Chairperson of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) argues that foreign observer "need to invest in observing the entire electoral cycle."

He said the international observation missions' methods require a significant overhaul.

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