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Malawi: Election Context
May 18, 2004 (040518)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"We have the greatest policies around, the most liberal
constitution. We have a constitution that any liberal democracy
would be proud of, but the will to implement ...is not there." -
Rafiq Hajat, Institute for Policy Interaction, Malawi
Malawi's election, postponed until next week to allow for
additional scrutiny of updated voter rolls, highlights both the
implantation of democratic institutions and the wide gap to bridge
before voters receive the benefits they wish political leaders to
provide. In an analysis which could apply in many respects to other
African countries, analyst Hajat applauds such signs of hope as
free speech and a vigorous civil society. But he also warns that
you cannot feed democracy to starving people.
Malawi, ranked 162 out of 175 countries on the UNDP's 2003 Human
Development Index, is also one of the countries worst affected by
HIV/AIDS. AIDS deaths, running at an estimated 85,000 people a
year, have cut average life expectancy to as low as 36. With the
assistance of the Global Fund, the country has just begun providing
free antiretroviral treatment to 6,000 people, out of an estimated
150,000 people with AIDS estimated to need treatment. Plans are to
increase the number on treatment to 35,000 persons over the next 12
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains an interview by the UN's
Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) with analyst Rafiq
Hajat, and several other brief background articles related to the
For additional background on economic and social issues in Malawi,
including a Civil Society Manifesto from the Malawi Economic
Justice Network, see the website of the Southern African Regional
Poverty Network at
For an election calendar for Southern African countries see
For links to additional news and background on Malawi, visit
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Malawi: Court Postpones Elections
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
May 14, 2004
The Malawi High Court on Friday postponed elections due to be
held on 18 May after an opposition coalition argued there were
serious anomalies in a new voters' roll, news reports said.
"The date of Malawi's elections is to be shifted or postponed to
no later than 25 May," AFP quoted Judge Healey Potani as saying.
The seven-party Mgwirizano (Unity) coalition, led by presidential
candidate and veteran opposition politician Gwanda Chakuamba,
asked the court on Thursday to delay the elections following
controversy over the voter roll.
The Malawi Electoral Commission said earlier this year it had
registered 6.6 million voters - a figure widely considered to be
inflated. When published last Friday after a "cleaning" exercise,
the number had dropped to 5.7 million.
Under the constitution, voters should have 21 days to scrutinise
the roll. The coalition's lawyer Charles Mhango reportedly argued
the electoral commission had not left enough time, and that there
were two rolls in circulation, which could lead to vote-rigging.
The judge ordered a fresh inspection of the voters' lists, which
he said should be completed by the end of business on 19 May. The
electoral commission on Friday said it would appeal the decision.
This year's general election will mark Malawi's third multi-party
ballot since 1994. The last poll in 1999 was delayed by a court
Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA)
EISA Regional Observer Mission to the Malawi 2004 General Election
May 6, 2004
The Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) hereby launches
its Regional Election Observer Mission for the upcoming General
Elections due to be held in Malawi on 18 May 2004. Leading the
delegation is the former President of the Republic of Botswana and
EISA Patron, Sir Ketumile Masire. The mission will be composed of
31 members drawn from civil society organisations, election
management bodies and academic institutions from various SADC
countries, namely Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo,
Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
The Malawi Election will be the second electoral process where the
assessment of the election will be based on the recently adopted
Electoral Commission Forum of SADC Countries(ECF) / EISA Principles
on Election Management, Monitoring and Observation in the SADC
Region (PEMMO). It should be recalled that these principles were
adopted in November 2003 were drafted in consultation with all
Electoral Commissions in the SADC region as well as Civil Society
Organisations (CSOs) who work in the elections field. PEMMO gives
the region an objective basis in terms of which to conduct and
The mission is expected to arrive in Malawi on May 9 2004 in order
to hold a series of meetings with election stakeholders, including
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), political parties, CSOs and
academics, ahead of election day. The mission will remain in the
country until 22 May 2004 after observing the voting and counting
processes as well as post-polling activities. The mission will
cover selected rural and urban areas in the Northern, Southern and
Central regions of Malawi.
EISA is a regional non-governmental organisation established in
1996, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Its mission is to
strengthen electoral processes, good governance, human rights and
democratic values in the SADC region and beyond through research,
capacity building, advocacy and other targeted interventions. The
Insitute services governments, electoral commissions, political
parties, civil society organisations and other institutions
operating in the democracy and governance fields in the SADC region
issued by the electoral institute of southern africa
Sir Ketumile Masire
Email Mr Denis Kadima, Executive Director, EISA
Mobile + 265 929 1874
Email Ms Belinda Musanhu, Field Office Coordinator, EISA-Lilongwe
Mobile +265 9 293 223
Email Mr Dieudonne Tshiyoyo, Programme Officer, EISA-Johannesburg
Tel + 27 11 482 5495
Malawi: Controversial Election Register Revised
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
May 7, 2004
The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) announced on Thursday that it
had revised the voters' roll and shed close to a million people
from the register.
MEC's chief elections officer, Roosevelt Gondwe, told a press
conference in the southern city of Blantyre that the number of
registered voters now stood at 5.7 million and not the 6.6 million
the MEC had earlier reported.
Opposition parties cried foul over the MEC's original tally,
pointing out that it did not correspond with the National
Statistical Office's census figures, which estimated Malawi's
population at 12 million.
The revision of the register was conducted by a South African
computer firm over a five-day period with the aim of weeding out
"double registrants", Gondwe said.
"What we are having now is very close to answering that query that
may be we are not at 6.6 million but we may be at 5.7 million," he
was quoted as saying.
He blamed incorrect information given to MEC officials by people
registering as responsible for the inflated voters' roll, while
analysts pointed to the failure of the commission to properly
manage the process.
The ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) said it welcomed the
revision of the register, and denied opposition allegations that it
had intended to use the swollen voters' roll to rig the 18 May
"In the Malawi Electoral Commission there are three parties being
represented. There is the UDF, Aford [Alliance for Democracy] and
MCP [Malawi Congress Party]. There is no reason why the opposition
should be accusing the UDF of rigging," said UDF deputy publicity
secretary, Mary Kaphwereza-Banda.
However, the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) said
there were questions the MEC still had to answer.
"How can this huge number of voters drop all of a sudden? This is
a sign of weakness on the part of the MEC," NDA spokesperson Salule
Masangwi was quoted as saying.
He also accused the commission of creating bogus polling stations,
an issue that urgently "needs to be looked at".
A Western diplomat told IRIN that the MEC's performance had been "a
complete and utter shambles, but we think it's more cock-up than
Whether it would impact on the election, Malawi's third multi-party
poll since 1994, could depend on how well the MEC was seen to
perform in securing the voting and counting process, he said.
Malawi: Interview with Rafiq Hajat
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
May 14, 2004
As Malawi heads to elections later this month, IRIN spoke to Rafiq
Hajat, the director of the Institute for Policy Interaction, on the
legacy of 10 years of multi-party democracy. Rather than applauding
the past decade, Hajat reflected on the need to inculcate a spirit
of democracy in the country.
Q: You've had 10 years of democracy in Malawi, what is there to
A: We've had slippages, reversals, we've got despair, we've had all
kinds of challenges facing us, but there are definitely good things
to celebrate, such as the triumph of civil society in the bid for
an open term, and then thereafter the third term - the extension of
the tenure of the presidency - the gradual awakening of civil
society to start to perform its vital role as a stabilising factor
in a democracy, the ultimate check and balance. That is,
notwithstanding the weak capacity, the fragmentation, the vested
interests and the plethora of problems that exist within such a
multifarious, multifaceted society. But, be that as it may, civil
society has shown the ability and the will to coalesce into a force
that cannot be ignored. The trick is to tap that source and make it
If you look at achievements, we now have freedom of speech. People
may say freedom of speech is not that much; it may not be much to
some, but for those who didn't enjoy it before, who wouldn't have
been able to speak the way I'm speaking to you now, this is a great
pleasure. We have the freedom of association, where you and I can
go out to a pub and have a chat without looking over our shoulders,
without me being locked up or being thrown to the crocodiles. That
draconian fear suppressing everything, that gloom, has lifted.
We've got a vibrancy now in society and among the people; people
voice out their concerns - people may not be living as well as they
did before, but I look at it as a stepping stone.
Q: In terms of second-generation rights, of economic empowerment,
there seems to have been a significant reversal in people's
standards of living?
A: I agree, I concur entirely.
Q: What have been the elements of that? what is the scale of the
A: The elements ... are mismanagement, callousness on the part of
government, non-responsiveness on the part of government, donor
pressure, the IMF [International Monetary Fund], World Bank - I
could give you numerous examples, such as selling our reserves of
maize and then the people suffering from starvation. However, what
you may not know was that the maize was sold on the advice of the
IMF. I use the term "advice" tongue-in-cheek, because advice from
the IMF is actually an order. There was also profiteering in maize
- it is rumoured by the private sector as well as politicians.
Nothing has been proved to date, but we do know there were people
who bought maize at 3 kwacha a kilo, who did not actually move it
from the silo. They waited a few weeks and sold it back to the same
silo at 17 kwacha a kilo. People died from starvation, not because
food was unavailable, but because they couldn't afford it: the
We have the greatest policies around, the most liberal
constitution. We have a constitution that any liberal democracy
would be proud of, but the will to implement, the spirit of
constitutionalism, the spirit of democracy, is not there. What I'm
saying is, we've developed the institutions of democracy, but it
hasn't yet been consolidated into the inculcation of the spirit of
democracy and the culture of democracy among the populace.
Q: Why not?
A: Simple: you are battling against 85 percent of the population
living below the poverty line; 65 percent are illiterate. You were
talking about second-generation rights, the right to livelihood?
What we're saying is, you cannot feed democracy to starving people,
or human rights, but the starting point has got to be economic
empowerment; the redistribution of wealth, but that redistribution
needs to be on an equitable basis, without endangering the backbone
of the economy. Malawi is deemed a poor country. I don't call it a
poor country, I call it a raped country ... If Malawi got a fair
price for its crops [on international markets], Malawi would not be
a poor country.
Q: We've talked about the inculcation of democracy, but the issue
seems to be the politicisation of personalities. The democracy
scene revolves around individuals without real party structures.
Why is that?
A: We have a here a legacy of neo-patrimonalism - the patronage
system is very much alive and well in Malawi. It is a heritage of
colonial days, and thereafter [Malawi's first president Hastings
Kamazu] Banda, who was the quintessential patriarch, and we have it
as a culture here. The village culture is the chief; the chief is
the source of all largesse, advice and wisdom in the village, so it
is the extension of that paradigm to the national level. We have a
dysfunctional party system, with party hierarchies only nominally
in place ...
Q: Are the politics of personality undermining the democratic
project in Malawi?
A: Yes. However, the politics of personalities has been recognised
by society, by the populace, as an impediment to the exercise of
their rights, and slowly there is a groundswell growing. This
election there have been so many comments from society: why do you
use campaign rhetoric and character assassination? Why don't you
concentrate on issues? Why don't we wean ourselves away from
personality politics and go on to issue politics? That lack of
ideology in all the parties has been mentioned and elaborated on.
We have an independent candidate [Justin Malewezi] saying 'I'm not
interested in personalities, I'm not interested in parties, I'm
interested in issues. I want to launch Operation Rescue Malawi'. So
there is some kind of incision being made into that culture.
Q: The issue of the voters roll - there has been a major
controversy because there seem to be around a million extra voters
on the roll. Is this serious?
A: There are a lot of anomalies in that voters' roll, which is not
helped by the fact that the election commission could not provide
a proper copy of the voters' roll in all the voting centres - they
said they didn't have the capacity to do it. A new computer server
has been brought in from South Africa for this purpose, whereby the
voters' roll is being scrutinised minutely to detect the anomalies
that have created this scenario. But if they are not cleared up
fast, then nobody is going to believe these elections.
Q: And a concomitant fear of violence I presume?
A: Well violence could certainly erupt, because you've got to
remember, [for] a lot of these candidates - I would say four out of
the five candidates - this is their last shot at the title. It is
winner takes all, and a roll of the dice to determine. So,
obviously, if the roll of the dice is deemed to be loaded, it will
erupt - no doubt about it - there's too much at stake.
Q: It seems a very odd situation, where the outgoing president
Bakili Muluzi is ... [attracting more attention] campaigning ...
[than] his successor as party leader, Bingu wa Mutharika. He seems
to be at the forefront of the campaign for the UDF [United
Democratic Front]. What do you make of this?
A: The UDF is an appendage of Bakili Muluzi. He supplies all the
funds, all its resources, and it seems it's his energy and his will
that holds the party together. UDF stands for United Democratic
Front - and that's exactly what it is ... a front. I would call it
a coalition of vested interests, and the glue that holds it
together is Muluzi - that is his party. Every car you see with UDF
markings ... its owner is Bakili Muluzi, not the party.
Q: One of the emblems of this government has been universal primary
education, but there have been problems over the quality of the
education provided and the lack of teachers.
A: It is actually symptomatic. We have great policies, but the will
and resources to implement them properly are not there. Free
primary education? Great. We are ranked as one of the 10 poorest
countries in the world - how do you achieve that? I would say to
you, okay, the education may not be great, people sit under a mango
tree to learn, but it's better than nothing at all. It's a step in
the right direction. And then there's free secondary education for
girls. Why? Because girls will be the mothers of tomorrow, and that
love for knowledge will be imparted to their children. So it is a
very gradual approach, and it is encumbered by lack of funds and
Q: The third-term issue [in which Muluzi attempted to change the
constitution to stand for an extra term] - did that represent the
flowering of civil society, or was resistance simply event-driven?
A: Civil society actually started in '92/'93, with the churches
issuing the pastoral letter [calling for democratic reform of the
one-party state]. The UDF was a pressure group, it was part of
civil society, that's where it came from - I know, I was there.
However, since '94, civil society has mushroomed, and in that kind
of mad helter-skelter you will get excesses that then cloud the
achievements. Civil society has been growing steadily, and it has
started to achieve some kind of unity of purpose that showed its
full potential over the third-term issue.
Q: President Muluzi has been highly critical of the church in this
election, which has seemed to play a more overtly party political
role. Do you consider it positive - the role the church is playing?
A: I'm in a bit of a dilemma about the church. The church's role in
1992 was vital - nobody can deny that. Without the churches
stepping in at that vital time, we may not have had democracy
today. That's the first point, and let's not forget it. Since then
the churches have always sort of performed as the conscience of the
nation, the voice of the voiceless. In the third term bid, the
churches were vital - without their support this effort would have
fallen to the wayside. Again, they steered it onto the right track.
Today the churches are being deemed overtly political: when they
issued the pastoral letter, was it not overtly political? When they
took a stand against the third term, was it not overtly political?
Today ... they are backing a seven-party coalition [Mgwirizano
"unity"], basically to create a strong opposition - that's what the
motive was - a strong counterpoint to pose a challenge to an
establishment that has been recognised as having failed the people
in numerous areas. Corruption is rampant - whether that is proven
or not, it is the perception that is important - the level of
poverty has increased, the economy is going down the drain and
people are suffering, and the church has stepped forward to say
'let's try and reverse this trend'.
Q: Before, it was about justice and democracy, but now it's a
clearly partisan position, which is slightly different; which
raises the issue of Islam versus Christianity [Muluzi is a Muslim,
as are one third of Malawians, with Islam the fastest growing
religion]. Do you feel this is significant in the context of Malawi
A: I don't feel it's that significant - I think that element is
being used by unscrupulous groups to gain attention. Personally, I
don't see that divide as being a tangible divide, unless it's
exploited by unscrupulous politicians.
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication
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