Saturday, November 14, 2015

Electoral Reforms, the journey so far

Electoral Reforms, the journey so far

Presentation by Commissioner, Rev Ambassador Emmanuel Chinkwita-Phiri on November 13, 2015
Chairperson, Electoral Services Committee

The MEC chairperson, Justice Maxon Mbendera SC
My fellow Commissioners,
Representatives of Various Government Ministries, Departments and agencies
Leaders of various political parties
CSO leaders
Development Partners
Members of the Media
and all Distinguished Guests

My presentation aims to give a comprehensive account of what has been achieved so far in pursuing the agenda for electoral reforms since we had the last national elections. To achieve that I will give background to the need for electoral reforms, formation of the task force on electoral reforms, weaving of the reform agenda, consultative meetings on issues compiled for reforms, where were are now and where we are going.

Background and need for electoral reforms
Soon after the May 2014 Tripartite Elections, the Malawi Electoral Commission conducted post-elections review meetings with stakeholders in all councils in the country to reflect on the Tripartite Elections.  The consultations were attended by leaders of all political parties, civil society organizations, traditional leaders and government officials at council level.
Also the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) conducted a national post-elections review conference in Lilongwe followed by three regional dialogue meetings in the Northern, Central and Southern regions.
From these consultative meetings a number of observations and recommendations were collected on possibility for reforms that would improve conduct of future elections. There were also many stakeholders that also voiced their opinion on the conduct of the 2014 elections and advocating the need for change on how we do manage some aspects of elections processes so that we can improve future polls.
Establishment of a taskforce
To ensure that the reforms are implemented in a coordinated manner, the Commission pooled together interested stakeholders to form a task force on electoral reforms. This also gave the taskforce the opportunity to benefit from the expertise and advice of the multi-sectoral stakeholders. Experience had also shown that similar initiatives have failed in the past because relevant stakeholders were not engaged and involved from the inception stage of the process. So the formation of the task force considered all stakeholders who would be needed in the process and involved them at the inception so that we have a solid and well-laid foundation.
The members of the task force include:
    • Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) - Co-chair
    • Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) - Co-chair
    • 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 Program (UNDP)
    • National Democratic Institute (NDI)

The task force is co-chaired by the Malawi electoral Commission and the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN). It is served by a secretariat that is being housed by MESN. The task force has made it a point to engage the relevant government departments so that they are active players in the process unlike being stakeholders. The ministry of Justice has dedicated one of its legal officers who will be participating in the activities of the task force.

First national conference
The task force met several times to strategise on propelling forward the reforms agenda. A national conference on electoral reforms was held on December 11 to 12, 2014 in Lilongwe. The conference was opened by Hon Bright Msaka SC in his capacity as vice-chairperson of the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary and Legal Affairs.

This meeting was held with financial support from the DFID and participants included political parties, traditional leaders, development partners, civil society organisations, government departments and the media.

The national conference provided an opportunity for the taskforce to share what has been gathered through the public consultations. There were also presentations by experts on selected thematic areas of electoral reforms.

Technical working groups and reform thematic areas
From the national conference, participants proposed individuals to form technical working groups. The technical working groups were been formed around each of the following themes:
    1. Electoral systems
    2. Legal framework
    3. Election management
    4. Civic and Voter education.

The technical working groups looked into the proposed reforms in their thematic area, conducted research and came up with suggestions which were bounced with the expert reference group.

Expert reference group
The expert reference group comprised various experts in relevant electoral reform areas like elections, civic and voter education, legal and public administration. This group was reference point for the technical working groups and looked at the reforms in a holistic way. While a technical working group concentrated on its thematic area, the expert reference group considered all the four areas. Matters approved by the expert reference group were pushed to the task force.

Electoral Reforms Issues Paper
The task force engaged five consultants to refine the document that was produced by the experts reference group into an issues and recommendations paper.

To date, the Task Force has been selling this document to stakeholders to get their buy in, views and reflections on the issues. This document has also been made available to all members present here. I should emphasize that your views, contributions and any form of feedback is welcome. Send it to the addresses you will find on page 3 (under acknowledgements).
The proposed election reforms issues are founded on issues raised by grass root voices the Task Force has collected, integrated and analyzed the reforms through various consultative and expert groups, as well as a peer review mechanism. The issues have been grouped around four objectives as follows:
  • Enhancing political legitimacy, inclusiveness and representativeness in the election of all officials.
  • Improving the coherency, integrity and adequacy of Malawi's electoral legal framework.
  • Improving the impartiality, effectiveness and credibility of election administration and management
  • Improving civic competence of citizens on electoral matters.
The summarised recommendations under these four thematic areas are found on page 4 to 7 on the issues paper which has been distributed to you.

So far the task force has conducted 11 consultative meetings with political parties, parliamentary committees, civil society organisations and other stakeholders. the task force has also participated in media programmes as one way of public awareness around the reform issues.

At the moment the task force is planning for four regional meetings with other stakeholders and political parties that have not been engaged so far.

Way forward
After the consultations, the Task Force will refine the document to incorporate views from stakeholders. Thereafter there will be a national conference probably in mid-December 2015 where stakeholders will be invited to the presentation of the revised issues paper. The outcome of the national conference will be positions on the issues proposed for electoral reforms. Thereafter the position paper will be submitted to relevant offices including Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the Business and Legal Affairs Committees of Parliament, and the Law Commission and off course the Malawi Electoral Commission. The tentative plan is that all outstanding tasks will be concluded before February 2016.

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