SPEECH DELIVERED BY JUSTICE MAXON MBENDERA SC, CHAIRMAN OF THE MALAWI ELECTORAL COMMISSION DURING THE LAUNCH OF 2013-2017 STRATEGIC PLAN, 2014 TRIPARTITE ELECTIONS AND 2014 TRIPARTITE ELECTIONS CIVIC AND VOTER EDUCATION STRATEGY AT HOTEL VICTORIA ON 14 JUNE 2013
â˘ Fellow Commissioners
â˘ Former Chairpersons and Commissioners present
â˘ Your Excellencies members of the Diplomatic Corps and Representatives of all development partners present here
â˘ Chief Elections Officer, your deputies and all members of staff of the Commission Secretariat
â˘ Paramount Chiefs and all traditional leaders present
â˘ Honourable Leaders of Political Parties
â˘ The Chairperson for Centre for Multi-Party Democracy (CMD)
â˘ Distinguished Members from the Civil Society Organisations
â˘ The Honourable Attorney General
â˘ The Commander of the Malawi Defence Forces
â˘ The Inspector General of Police
â˘ Senior Government Officials
â˘ Distinguished Members of the Press
â˘ Ladies and Gentlemen
Exactly three hundred and forty days from today, eligible Malawians will go to the polls on 20 May, 2014 to vote in the Tripartite Elections. They will choose their Councillors, Members of Parliament and President to represent and lead us for the next five years.
Our meeting today is, therefore, to launch those elections. To launch the Strategic Plan that takes us there and beyond. To launch the civic and voter education strategy that enables us to reach the electorate and adequately equip them to vote wisely in those elections. Therefore, this meeting is both important and historic. It gives me great pleasure to formally welcome you to Victoria Hotel.
At the very outset, allow me to recognize and thank the Lord God Almighty. God has made it possible for us to meet here as we consolidate our democracy. As a nation we have in the past come to the brink so many times. And in that moment just when chaos and civil strife is about to break out the tide recedes. In that sense we can surely say as a nation Ebenezer. Let us, therefore, take courage and build our nation. Let us together cooperate one with another irrespective of religion, tribe, region or political affiliation.
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, today will go down in the history of our country for the triple launch: 2013-2017 MEC Strategic Plan, Civic and Voter Education Strategy and first ever Tripartite Elections.
Todayâs meeting has brought together everybody who matters in elections in this country. Present in this meeting are representatives of political parties, civil society organizations, the media, government, traditional leaders, development partners and diplomats. The Commission has outlined the broad schedule of activities which have been lined up for the conduct of the 2014 Tripartite Elections
Commissioners have given you a comprehensive summary of the three areas. What I would say is that the Strategic Plan is the over-arching plan in which the activities of the tripartite elections are. The civic and voter education strategy is the guide for reaching the masses within the tripartite elections. I will, therefore, not dwell much on the details. It suffices to mention that detailed focus on the various events will be covered as the events approach in the calendar. We will continue to have meetings with stakeholders. For instance, on 28 June we expect to have a National Elections Consultative Forum (NECOF) meeting where the Commission will discuss all issues to do with registration of voters.
It is important that the position of the Commission is clear to you all.
The Commission is committed to create and foster an environment conducive for the holding of free, fair and credible elections. The Commission will implement all electoral programmes in an honest, transparent and truthful manner. We will take all reasonable measures to prevent willful wrong doing by Commissioners and staff. We shall endeavour to ensure total compliance with all electoral laws and other relevant laws of the country. It is our expectation that stakeholders will also comply with the various codes of conduct and electoral laws.
More importantly, the Commission shall carry out its mandate with independence and impartiality. The Commission will operate freely in its own best judgment without taking directives from or being controlled by any person or authority. MEC shall at all times ensure that all electoral activities are open to public, judicial and governmental scrutiny. We undertake to be responsive to the views and concerns of all stakeholders. We will endeavour to meet and appraise stakeholders on major activities in the electoral cycle. As you might have noted in the strategic plan, MEC realizes that regular consultations with stakeholders is key to any success in the elections business. During the forthcoming tripartite elections, meetings have been planned as reflected in the calendar which Commissioner Ambassador Chinkwita presented and is also in the document pack presented. The quality of our consultations will play a crucial role in determining the credibility of the 2014 Tripartite Elections. It is our hope that you will continue to make yourselves available for these meetings.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to give a brief account on the harmonization of electoral laws.
In January 2012, the Commission with financial assistance from the European Union Democratic Governance Pogramme held two consultative workshops with political parties and civil society organizations on the review of electoral laws. The report that was produced as an outcome of the consultative meetings proposed a number of amendments to the electoral laws. These were the gaps that were identified during previous elections. Following the passing of the Tripartite Elections Bill in November 2012, the Commission organized a meeting on 13 December 2012, which was attended by most of you. This meeting set up a task force to focus and review only those laws which required urgent harmonization in order to facilitate the smooth conduct of the Tripartite Elections.
The taskforce included MEC, Ministry of Justice, Civil Society, Media, Local Government, Police and prominent election practitioners among others. Amendments were submitted to Ministry of Justice and have just been passed during this sitting of Parliament. Not all proposals were agreed upon for submission to Parliament. You have been presented in your pack the amendments that were submitted and also those that have been passed by Parliament. We applaud Parliament for passing the bills.
Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to thank the Attorney General Mr Anthony Kamanga, SC and the Solicitor General and Secretary for Justice Dr Janet Banda for their personal commitment to this process. They were always available with their team to ensure that the process gets concluded in time for the elections. They have, just like most of you here, demonstrated true patriotism.
I need to emphasize one point on registration of voters. The Commission does not have registration equipment to cover the entire country at once. The registration process will be done in 10 phases across the country. We will start on 22 July 2013 and end on 4 January 2014. Each phase will run for a period of 14 days irrespective of holidays with a 3 day transition period between the phases.
Nomination of candidates is a process through which the Commission gets to know who the candidates will be for the three elections. Nominations of candidates for all the three elections will take place in February 2014. Nomination forms for those aspiring to stand as independent Parliamentary and Council candidates will be made available in all District Commissionersâ offices. Those to contest under political party tickets will collect their forms from their political parties. All Presidential candidates will collect nomination forms from any of our three Regional Elections Offices. The forms will be available for collection from 9January 2014. The forms will be available early to give those interested ample time to satisfy the requirements for a successful nomination.
A detailed program of the process shall be provided a month before the first day of presentation of nominations. For Parliamentary and Local Government Elections the papers will be presented at the district headquarters to the respective Returning Officer. District Commissioners and Chief Executive Officers will oversee the receipt of nomination process in their capacity as District Elections Coordinators.
For Presidential candidates, receipt of nomination will be done by the Commission at its Head Office or a place to be determined. Like the other two elections, a detailed program will be circulated to enable aspiring candidates know on which day and date they will be required to present their nomination papers to the Commission.
At the time of presentation of nomination forms to the Returning Officer, every candidate shall be required to sign a copy of the Political Code of Conduct to which they will be required to strictly abide with in order to bring sanity during the campaign period. The code of conduct has been enclosed in the document pack. The codes of conduct provide for the dos and donâts of candidates in the course of conducting their campaign. Penalties will be imposed on those violating the code of conduct.
The nomination fees are as follows:
â˘ Presidential Candidates :MK1,000,000.00
â˘ Parliamentary Candidates
o MK200,000.00 for Male candidates
o MK150,000.00 for Female candidates
â˘ Council Candidates
o MK20,000.00 for Male candidates
o MK15,000.00 for Female candidates
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the Commission wishes to encourage the 50-50 campaign through this positive discrimination. May I call upon political parties to join this campaign by deliberately bringing on board women who form more than 52 per cent of our population.
No nomination shall be received in the absence of accompanying payment of the nomination fees as prescribed.
Printing of Ballot Papers
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I need to speak about the printing of ballot papers. The selection of a firm or firms to print ballot papers will be through an open, competitive and transparent tendering process. Political parties through CMD asked the Commission in May this year that ballot papers should be printed outside the country. The Commission will do so for security and integrity of the voting process. Let me mention here that the Commission will ensure that the firm or firms that win the tender have a credible record. The Commission will monitor the printing process. Political parties and candidates will be provided with details of where and when ballot papers are printed. Political parties and candidates will be free at their own expense to monitor and/or inspect the process.
Observation of Electoral Processes
Ladies and Gentlemen, in order 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. The names of the representatives shall be notified to the Commission in writing specifying the registration or polling centres to which they are to be assigned. In the absence of such notifications, it shall be presumed that they do not desire to monitor the process. For the registration of voters, the Commission has given political parties up to 9July 2013 to submit the names.
Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen, the Commission has arranged to provide for both long-term and short-term observation of elections. It has already extended invitations to both international and local observers.
Tools for peace
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, elections are supposed to ensure democratic governance and facilitate peace and political stability. Democracy cannot prevail and become sustainable if peace and political stability come under threat. Electoral related conflicts are a challenge facing democratic elections. As we all know, Africaâs diverse societies are often prone to conflict. Such conflicts threaten nation building and social harmony. Malawi is no exception in this.
Whereas these conflicts occur all the time, they tend to be exacerbated during elections. Elections are by their very nature a fertile breeding ground for conflicts. The Commission is empowered by Section 76 2(c) of the Constitution to determine electoral petitions and complaints. In the 1999 general elections, the Commission was overwhelmed with electoral petitions. As a mitigating factor to this, in 2000 the Commission established Multi-Party Liaison Committees (MPLCS) in all districts in the country during the Local Government Elections. The MPLCs have worked very well since. The Commission intends to strengthen them for the Tripartite Elections.
At national level, the Commission has planned to have training workshops in conflict management for Secretaries General of political parties. This will help them to effectively manage electoral related conflicts. Besides that, the Commission has resuscitated the National Elections Consultative Forum (NECOF) one of whose objectives is to resolve electoral related conflicts at national level.
Before I conclude, allow me to acknowledge Dr Augustine Titani Magolowondo and Mr Daniel Stroux. These were the consultants who worked with the Commission to produce the Strategic Plan. I would also wish to acknowledge the work done by Dr Henry Chingaipe and Mr Geff Kabondo on the review of the Civic and Voter Education Strategy.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I will be failing in my duty if I do not mention the contribution the European Union is making towards the consolidation of democracy in Malawi through the Democratic Governance Programme. The EU has financed the processes and production of the MEC Strategic Plan and the Civic and Voter Education Strategy.
With these remarks, I on behalf of the Commission declare the 2013-2017 MEC Strategic Plan, the 2014 Tripartite Elections Civic and Voter Education Strategy and the 20 May 2014 Tripartite Elections officially launched.
I thank you most sincerely for your attention.
May God bless you all
And May God bless our Nation.
Follow our Instagram