Friday, May 30, 2014

Update from Malawi Election 2014 - Time to end the power vacuum?

Friends in Malawi. Election Update!

Seven out of ten members of the MEC have refused to ratify the vote count despite the High Court Ruling ordering the release of result today - in order to meet the 8 day legal obligation for the release of results. The stand off continues!

The seven MEC officials are basically blocking Peter Mutharika from taking up the Presidency. Love him or hate him and his party it is clear that he has won the election. The Constitution and rule of law are more important than the individuals involved. The PVT and the Afrobarometre opinion poll clearly support the initial MEC results and it appears Mutharika has 42% of the vote. In a first past the post system that is a mandate to govern. You may question the legitimacy of FPTP and of the electoral process in Malawi but those are questions for the future. 

As it stand now Peter Mutharika must be inaugurated as President of the Republic of Malawi for the sake of democracy.

Disclaimer: I have know political allegiance in Malawi. This will be evident to anyone who follows me on Twitter. @Thembinkosi 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Malawi - A Beacon of Democracy in Africa?

South Africa held a General Election on 7th May 2014. The election saw Jacob Zuma re-elected as President and the ANC maintain overwhelming majorities in the National Assembly and the new Provisional Legislatures. There were no surprises. The ANC vote was diminished slightly, perhaps due to the emergence of the EFF, but otherwise the status quo was maintained. This was the 5th General Election in the democratic Republic of South Africa held since the end of the apartheid era and the ANC has dominated all five of these elections. Elections were unquestionably “free and fair” and the rightly winners were returned to office. This too many is an example of multi party democracy exemplified.
On 20th May 2014 the people of the Republic of Malawi went to the polls to in the first tripartite elections the country has held. In contrast to the South African election there have been reports of chaos and failure of democracy in Malawi. The political intrigue is fascinating and as I have said before akin to the drama of House of Cards. Never the less I would like to argue that the 2014 Malawian election could potentially do more for African democracy than any election in the post colonial era.
Malawi is maturing as a democracy that cannot be doubted. There may be elements of subterfuge and at least political maneuvering by ultimately the rule of law and the Constitution has been protected by the High Court. In the past week Malawi has exemplified a model of restraint. Even in the midst of Joyce Banda trying to illegally nullify the election the courts stood firm and insisted that the MEC continued with the vote count in accordance with the Constitution. Thanks to the intervention of the High Court it now seems likely that a victor will emerge as the new President of Malawi. This is likely to be the nemesis of Mrs Banda, Peter Mutharika. The electoral process to my mind has shown real signs of political maturity. There have been many, far too many hiccups, by ultimately the Constitution is being upheld and it has emerged that Separation of Powers genuinely exists in Malawi. The High Court has acted independently from the Executive and has remained staunchly committed to upholding the Constitution rather than bowing to illegal proclamations from the incumbent.
There have been claims that Mutharika’s DPP party has rigged the election in his favour. Such reports are seemingly spurious. Firstly, one must question how it would be possible for an opposition party to fix an election against an incumbent and furthermore one recognizes that all the facts point towards a Mutharika victory. The PVT indicates that the MEC count is accurate and the results being declared are very much in line with the pre-election forecasts from Afrobarometer. Opinion polls are often maligned in African elections and often justifiably so. A culture of accurate psephology is only just beginning to emerge and the advanced scientific methodology of Afrobarometer has taken many in the region by surprise. Social Scientists now have the means, it seems, to predict election results based upon their surveys. Perhaps a new political landscape will emerge across the continent and in future psephologists will be more widely utilized by candidates in African elections. Perhaps in this respect Malawi 2014 will be heralded as a new dawn in African politics? It can only be good for democracy!
The role of the military and in particular the army should also be celebrated. The military have been deployed on the streets of urban centres frequently over the past week but have acted with great restraint and professionalism. In less developed democracies the military may have stepped into the perceived power vacuum in order to rule for the “common good” or to impose its favoured candidate on a nation. This has not happened in Malawi and again I argue that this is a sign of a country that is maturing as a democracy.
During the electoral process information has been freely available and local and international media have been able, it seems to me, to report without restrictions. I have read many differing political perspectives on the election process – in support of each of the candidates – this is refreshing. Of course media outlets and people using social networks have their own views and opinions but by and large the information emerging from Malawi has been balanced. There have been enough sources emerging to allow an observer to make judgments on the changing politic scene in the country. A free and fair media should not be taken for granted.
I started my article with reference to South Africa – a country that saw an election take place with little fuss and very few logistical difficulties. Results were published quickly and the process took place very smoothly culminating with the much-vaulted inauguration of Jacob Zuma. Some might say Malawi’s election exemplified the very opposite to South Africa and criticize the country for that fact. What with long queues, polling running into a second day, counting systems failing and results taking days to be declared amid claims of rigging and malpractice. I can’t disagree that the logistics of the election of been shambolic at times but I am compelled to celebrate the positives. Four candidates entered the electoral fray with some chance of being elected President in Malawi whereas in South Africa it was a foregone conclusion that the party of Government would be re-elected overwhelmingly. Malawi is potentially developing into a multi party democracy! In South Africa only the ANC can win. Similarly in Botswana, another country celebrated in the west as a model of African democracy, only the BDP ever win! Even in the USA it’s either Republicans or Democrats (with nothing to chose between them ideologically!) or the UK Labour or Conservative in the UK!
There is so much opportunity that can arise for Malawi as the new President takes over office. The country is demonstrating enhanced political maturity, Separation of Powers is a reality, the Constitution has been respected and despite a protracted process it seems the will of the people will be adhered to. Structurally things are sound. Much now depends upon those coming into government. A genuinely hung Parliament holding the Executive to account is crucial. Some may dismiss me as naïve or overly optimistic but if the incoming President can work with Parliament and not adopt the “Big Man” posture then hope is in the air. Similarly it’s essential that newly elected MPs do not seek to cross the floor in order to enhance their careers. A new era of consensus politics could see Malawi as a beacon of African democracy.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Malawian Elections 2014 - My Thoughts!

Malawi held it’s first ever-tripartite election on Tuesday 20th May 2014. Of course most of the attention is focused upon the race for the Presidency. As voting began opinion polls suggested that the election was too close to call. The most thorough poll (from Afrobarometer) suggested that Peter Mutharika (DPP) was ahead but would face stiff competition from Pastor-come-Politician Lazarus Chakwera (MCP) and to a lesser extent from the incumbent Joyce Banda (PP) and the son of the late former President Bakali Muluzi; Atuple Muluzi (UDF).

The election itself has been dramatic to say the least. It’s script keeps unfolding with more twists and turns than House of Cards. For an outsider looking in it is enthralling. For the people of Malawi there is uncertainty and tension mount as they await official results from the MEC. The unelected incumbent, Joyce Banda, the darling of the west, has cried foul play and alleges that the DPP have rigged the election for Peter Mutharika. Such a claim seems ludicrous given that as the incumbent Mrs Banda controls the machinery of government but as been reported verbatim as if fact by the BBC and the Guardian in the UK. The fact is that President Banda lost credibility in Malawi following the Cashgate scandal that happened on her watch and that as a result she is distrusted by the majority of Malawians. There is very little evidence of wide spread electoral fraud at presence. It is possible that evidence may emerge let’s not forget that the African Union and European Union observers have stated that the election was free and fair.

Despite such allegations of malpractice and vote rigging one feels compelled with admiration for the people of Malawi and it is my belief that this election could be a watershed for Malawian democracy and beyond. The election was conducted peacefully. Despite some sensationalistic journalists trying to paint a picture of chaos the reality is that other than a few skirmishes in Ndirande (a renowned township of Blantyre) and a couple of incidents the elections took place in peace. EU observers and the African Union have confirmed this. The culture of western based journalists stirring up trouble couldn’t be better exemplified than by the early messages on Twitter from a journalist from the Washington Post “Monkey Cage” blog Kim Yi Dionne who claimed that illegal roadblocks and rioting were marring the election. Miss Yi Dionne is clearly a capable writer (the Monkey Blog article is excellent!) but is clearly a better blogger from behind a comfy desk in the Northampon, MA, than when in the heated environment of an election day in Malawi! The problem with such journalists who parachute in to a country they may never have lived in is that they have no idea of the societal norms. Young men with their shirts off running through the streets of Ndirande are guilty of anti social behavior and it reflects badly on their locality but they are not rioting nor having any drastic impact on the outcome of an otherwise peaceful electoral process. I have observed far worse images of anti social behavior after soccer matches in Malawi than those from the Election Day. It is not that I seek to condone anti social exuberance but believe it must be seen in the right context. Similarly such amateur journalists sensationalized the military presence on the streets of Blantyre and Lilongwe. The army being on the streets is common sight in Malawi. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge the army did not have to take punitive action against citizens in order to quell disturbances but carried out their role in a relatively unobtrusive manner. Such scenes may be shocking to an assistant professor from the USA but are not too many who understand the nature of Malawian life.

The MEC has faced bitter criticism from many in Malawi. Such criticisms as the EU observers allude to are justified in the operational process of the election. Polling Stations opened late, voting ran into a second day in some cases and the electronic system of counting votes broke down. However, even against a back drop of pressure from the People’s Party of Joyce Banda, elements of the media and many concerned Malawian citizenships understandably anxious to hear results, the MEC stood firm and insisted on only reporting results when votes had been counted. The MEC gave regular news conferences and has been remarkably transparent and professional. The conduct of the MEC in difficult circumstances has been admirable and in many ways as been a model for African democracy and beyond. They have refused to be hurried into declaring early results and have shown a determination to focus on accuracy rather than speed. The job of an electoral commission is always crucial but no more so than when results are so tight. For the first time Malawi is electing MPs to Parliament as well as local elections and that has put tremendous strain on the system. Whatever the outcome the MEC should be saluted for carrying out it’s role with integrity.

It’s hard to speculate too much while awaiting the outcome but I suggest that the 2014 elections in Malawi will be a watershed for democracy. The newly elected President will be sworn into office knowing that 70% of the people have voted against him/her in all likelihood and will have to work with a hung Parliament but the optimist part of me sees how this might be positive. The 2014 Presidential election cries out for a run offor a system of transferable vote. A run off would ensure that the newly elected President had a strong mandate and the consent of the people. Now might be the ideal time for the hierarchy within Malawian politics to consider constitutional review vis-à-vis the election of the President? First past thePost might suit a two party system like the USA but does not suit a multi party democracy like Malawi. The model for electing the president in France might be one worth considering in Malawi?

So what for the future? One suspects that after her initial disappointment Mrs Banda will land of her feet and secure many a top job on the world stage. She will remain the darling of the West and will potentially become an excellent ambassador for her country. Atupele has now tested the water. He will be back and the UDF stronger. He was a contender and is still young. He will learn from the experience of contesting the Presidency and may well still be President of Malawi one day. As for what happens to Lazarus Chakwera and Peter Mutharika – that will be determined by which of the two is declared President of Malawi.