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Malawi: Election Context

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 18, 2004 (040518)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"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 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 months.

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 election.

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 ruling.

Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA)

Press Release:
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 assess elections.

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 and beyond.

issued by the electoral institute of southern africa

Mission leader
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 general election.

"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 conspiracy".

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 celebrate?

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 more sustainable.

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 problem?

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 ultimate crime!

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 corruption.

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 politics?

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 providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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