REPORT BY JUSTICE MAXON MBENDERA SC, CHAIRMAN OF THE MALAWI ELECTORAL COMMISSION DURING THE SEVENTH NATIONAL ELECTIONS CONSULTATIVE FORUM (NECOF) MEETING ON 4TH JULY, 2014, HOTEL VICTORIA, BLANTYRE
Honourable Leaders of Political Parties;
Your Excellencies members of the Diplomatic Corps and Representatives of all
Chief Elections Officer, your deputies and all members of staff of the Commission
The Chairperson for the Centre for Multi-Party Democracy (CMD);
Senior Government Officials;
Distinguished Members from the Civil Society Organisation;
Distinguished Members of the Press;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Welcome to Hotel Victoria,
We are meeting here today for the first time after the May 2014 Tripartite Elections. And before I go further in my report I should start by apologising to you all for the change in venue of the meeting.
It was earlier arranged that this meeting would take place at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe. However, due to other circumstances it had to be shifted to Blantyre. So we do not take it for granted for the fact that you have made it to this meeting. Our change was at short notice and for many of you it was not an easy task to accommodate the change in your tight schedules. Some have failed to come because of this change but for the fact that you have still made it, we are grateful and salute you for that.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first NECOF meeting after elections, allow me to congratulate all the candidates who emerged winners in the three elections. The fact that Malawians ushered them into office symbolises the trust in them and that they can deliver. I implore them to do their best not to betray that trust. It is our prayer that God will grant them wisdom to discharge their duties honestly and efficiently.
Also allow me to thank and congratulate all stakeholders for contributing to the success of the May 2014 elections. I thank all Civil Society Organisations that provided civic and voter education. There were many but allow me to single out National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) Trust, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) and Public Affairs Committee (PAC), Malwi Electoral Support Network (MESN) for the tremendous role they played.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me also to thank all political parties and candidates in particular for contributing to the sustenance of peace and stability of the country. We have had bloodless electoral process if we compare to past elections. Malawians in general deserve my, and the Commission's, heartfelt commendation and appreciation for maintaining peace and being disciplined.
I should also thank the Development Partners for contributing to the success of the elections through financial, material and technical support to MEC and the civil society organisations accredited by the Commission.
I will be failing in my duties if I do not commend the Police and the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) for providing security and logistical support during the elections period. In particular, the MDF provided us with trucks, fixed wing aircraft and helicopters which ferried staff and materials like ballot papers.
For the Government the timely provision of funds made it possible for the Commission to deliver the elections as required by the law. We wish to commend the spirit of working together.
I should also thank staff from the MEC secretariat for working tirelessly around the clock to ensure that the elections are success despite the elongated time that it took us to finish the task.
Today, we are presenting a final report of the elections. Our last meeting at this same place was on May 9, 2014 and this was during the campaign period. Since our reports to NECOF have been thematic, I will focus on the events from the last day of our meeting to this day we are meeting. My report, therefore, will focus on:
End of campaign;
Logistics and distribution of materials for polling;
Polling result counting, transmission and determination;
End of Campaign
The official campaign was launched during the NECOF meeting held at Hotel Victoria on March 20, 2014. Official campaign commenced on 21 March 2014 and ended at 0600 hours on 18 May 2014.
During the campaign period the Commission was also conducting meetings with traditional leaders and their subjects across the country on the need for them to attend political rallies and violence-free campaign. The Commission combined this activity with campaign monitoring. MEC commissioners criss-crossed the country and I am glad to report, and you can agree, with me that the conduct of the campaign this year has been peaceful. With the exception of a few isolated cases , we did not generally have cases of violence and intimidation as we did in previous elections.
During the campaign period the Commission did its best to level the playing field for the contestants. The Commission requested political parties to produce three minute campaign jingles and purchased airtime on radio stations where the messages were aired.
The Commission also met with the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) board twice after noticing that there was bias towards the incumbent leadership then. Through the discussions between the Commission and the MBC board coupled with political will, the nation witnessed a new kind of MBC. The station opened up to all the contestants.
At the Commission, we know there is need to reform the law governing MBC but another big factor is political will. MBC has opened up to all parties without change or amendment of law. We need to sustain the current scenario so that MBC continues to transform towards a true public broadcaster every one of us wants it to be.
I should thank all political leaders that participated in the presidential debates. The debates were a level platform for all candidates to sell themselves to the public. They also offered an opportunity for the electorate to know and compare the views of various candidates on topical issues. This contributed to building an informed citizenry. May, I, therefore, thank all the organisations that were involved in organising the debates led by MISA Malawi. In particular I should thank OSISA for providing funding and also National Democratic institute for technical support.
One challenge during campaign period was abuse of state resources. Presidential campaign rallies could not be distinguished from presidential functions. There should be legal reforms that will check abuses of state resources during campaign. Having a cabinet up to very close end of the campaign period provided a room for the executive to use state resources for campaign. May be there should be a law dissolving the cabinet before campaign period starts and that the incumbent should not hold development rallies after the launch of the campaign period.
Polling and vote counting
The Commission started distributing non-sensitive materials which included ballot booths and generators to the councils on May 5, 2014. Ballot papers were distributed to councils on 16 May 2014 from Kamuzu International Airport.
The Commission tried all its best but challenges were faced on the polling day that some centres either opened late or did not open at all because materials were not delivered in times. The Commission needed 1900 vehicles but was given 1,345 vehicles. Because of this some 43 out of the 4445 centres voted on 21st and 22nd May 2014 in Blantyre, Dedza and Lilongwe districts. In some of these centres polling was disturbed while in progress. The Commission had to print ballot papers to enable voters in these centres exercise their right.
I should also report that when we were deploying our staff for polling, some faced hostility and harassment especially in Lilongwe to an extent that the District Commissioner and the Chief Executive Officer resigned and a laptop was lost. The disturbances that occurred on May 20 also led to loss of property like some classrooms, election materials and tents were burnt.
To ensure that no bonafide registered voter was denied the right to vote, the Commission made available at every centre the Part As to help in identifying eligible voters. These were used as a back up just in case the name of a registered voter was missing in the voters roll.
Counting started with Local Government, then Parliamentary and finally Presidential elections. Counting was done per stream and then the results were aggregated for the polling station. In most polling stations, signed results sheets were given to monitors and another pasted at the centre.
There were some challenges in some centres that they did not have the results sheets and other materials. This was a distribution problem at the council level. However, where such problems were experienced the Commission immediately moved in to supply the materials. This was the same for ballot boxes where shortage was experienced.
Result transmission and management
The Commission with support from Development Partners contracted Globe Computers to provide a Result Management System. The system really worked on the day but challenges arose when presiding officers started bringing results with what the machine took as anomalies. The system was allowed to accept up to 800 voters per stream. We had some challenges that some presiding officers ignored the rule of 800 per stream and in some centres streams were combined and the voter population went beyond that and automatically the system could not allow for those results. The system could also not accept results with arithmetical errors.
The unbalanced figures gave a challenge for most Constituency Retuning Officers (CROs) to transmit their results to the National Tally Centre using the Results Management System. The Commission decided that all CROs should bring the results in person to the National Tally Centre in Blantyre for capturing into the system.
There were speculations that the system had been hacked and also that it had crashed. This was not so it is the factors that I have given that conspired to create the scenario we had.
At the national tally centre once the results were captured into the system they were shared with political parties for them to verify with their monitors.
The Commission was compelled at first to move the court to allow for recounting of the votes so that the results would be not doubted by everyone. This was after noticing anomalies that needed explanations in some 61 centres which were quarantined and also in others where the voter population in a constituency was close to the voter population for the district itself. The Commission investigated and re-examined the figures and it was found to be explainable using the polling centre result sheet. These results were corrected and formed part of the national vote count that was announced.
The Presidential results were announced on 30th May 2014 with the Parliamentary and Local Government Elections following on 2nd June, 2014.
The Commission still remembers the fears that were expressed by many stakeholders that tripartite elections were complex and many people would be confused resulting in many null and void votes. However, as you noted from the figures that there has been an improvement. The percentage of null and void votes has gone down from 2.54 in 2009 to 1.09 percent this year. This, as stakeholders we can all pat ourselves on the back.
The Commission established a complaints unit with funding from the UNDP managed basket fund for prompt legal advice and opinion to the Commission on all matters that required such a service.
Three local lawyers but headed by an international lawyer were recruited. During the last NECOF meeting details including phone numbers and email address were given on how to contact the unit. A press release was also put up in the media.
To date the unit has handled 360 complaints on various categories like campaign related, counting, arithmetical reconciliations, candidate bribing, interrupted polling, etc which were attended to.
From these 360 cases we only have 18 petitions in the court.
International and Local Observers
The Commission relaxed all rules to enable more eligible people to observe the elections. The Commission recruited four temporary staff to process accreditation IDs for observers and also engaged former Commissioner, Ambassador Ron Mkomba, as Commissioner at large to be the liaison point with observer missions.
A total of 1226 accreditations were made for media, local and international observers. Some observers have shared their reports with us, while others have not. If there is any organisation here that observed the elections, get the message that we need your report. Your observations and recommendations will help us improve for future elections.
Funding for Elections
Government and Development Partners agreed for an at least 60 per cent and up to 40 percent contribution respectively towards the budget for the elections. It is an open secret that the elections were conducted during a lean period where development partners had withdrawn their direct budgetary support to the country.
However, I should thank staff at the Treasury for prioritising elections budget. We appreciate the challenges the Treasury faced. But they tried within the limited resource envelope to support MEC.
I should thank once again the development partners because they did not stop their direct budgetary support to elections despite suspending direct support to the government.
There are several issues that have been raised regarding funding for the Commission, like funding for elections should look at elections as a cycle and not as an event. In some cases since the funding has to be accommodated in one fiscal year budget, it becomes a burden on the national budget. If the budget could be spread over several years, the burden cannot be felt.
Need for Law Reforms
These elections despite being unprecedented on the fact that they were tripartite, they also came with unique challenges.
For example, we had two resignations of running mates. Apparently, the law is silent on what happens when a running mate resigns or even dies before elections. This and many other sections of the law will require proper attention so that the lacuna is filled. For this to succeed, it is recommended that the reforms take place between now and May 2015 and not later than that.
During nomination period, we also had court cases regarding the candidatures of those individuals who were perceived to be public servants. There are some inconsistencies in the rulings by the High Court. While one ruling said university employees are public servants, other rulings said they are not. As a Commission, we need proper direction for future elections.
We already appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal before elections but we stalled the process so that we could concentrate on managing elections. Now that elections are over, the Commission has instructed Counsel to retrieve the cases in the Supreme Court of Appeal.
There are two constituencies: Thyolo East and Blantyre North and five wards: Lisanjala in Machinga, Kandeu in Ntcheu, Lifupa in Kasungu, Mbalachanda in Mzimba and Zgeba in Karonga where elections have to be conducted. I should assure everyone that it is in the interest of the Commission to hold the by-elections as soon as practicable so that these areas also have representation in the appropriate spheres of government. We will announce the dates for the by-elections towards the end of this month once the calendar and budget have been finalised.
However, I should share some points that the Commission will open the registration centres so that those only who will have attained the age of 18 on the polling day to be announced should go and register. This means those who were not 18 years old on 20th May 2014. Those who already registered will be requested to go and verify their details in the voters’ register. No transfers will be entertained.
Also those wishing to contest will be required to collect nomination papers and fill them appropriately. Candidates of the postponed elections need not to go through this process. These ones will just need to affirm to us in writing on their intention to contest and if the other details remain unchanged.
Despite the challenges that we faced, the Commission identified solutions and concludes that the May 20 tripartite elections were conducted in a free and fair environment where all registered voters were given an opportunity to exercise their right. This view has been supported by various observer reports, the latest one being the final report by the European Union long term observer mission.
There were, of course, challenges on the polling day but we should look beyond May 20, 2014. The Commission did put in place measures to afford those who failed to vote on May 20 an opportunity the following two days to cast their ballots. In some centres voting was disrupted and the Commission had to re-print ballot papers within the country to enable people in the centres to vote.
With these few remarks, I should thank you all for your attention.
God bless you
Thank you very much