The Malawi Electoral Commission in conjunction with the African Union Commission organized a five-day BRIDGE “Electoral Dispute Resolution Workshop” in Blantyre, Malawi on 07-11 September 2015.
A consultative process was held by the EMB and political parties regarding the problems encountered during the previous Tripartite Elections in May 2014 where one of the issues placed before the court was a call for a recount and the timing of the release of the results while a number of disputes were still pending. The court subsequently made a ruling for the results to be announced by the Electoral Commission within eight days after voting day; this judgment was made by court to the dismay of the disgruntled parties, which lead to some parties refusing to accept the results.
The Malawi Electoral Commission decided to proactively engage political parties as one of the major electoral stakeholders and this lead to a decision to conduct a workshop on Electoral Dispute Resolution, which was attended by officials of the EMB and political parties.
Electoral Justice/Electoral Dispute Resolution
Electoral Justice is one of the most important components of any democracy and when implemented in a fair manner it cements the legitimacy of an election and endorses the credibility of an EMB. Lack of Electoral Justice is one of the major causes of conflict, non-acceptance of results and lack of trust in the EMB. While not all disputes can be resolved in favour of the complainant the importance of putting proper measures in place to prevent disputes and effective mechanisms of resolving them, the process itself, if conducted in a fair and just manner can go a long way in restoring the confidence in the EMB. It can also make a difference even to the losing party, as they will witness that while they may have lost the argument, the system itself did not fail them. The principle must be that the complainant should never find fault in the manner in which the matter is handled and should never find fault with the officials who presided over it, irrespective of the outcome.
An EMB is a custodian of democracy and the only organization with the mandate to administer free and fair elections. Electoral Dispute Resolution – EDR is an integral part of what constitutes free and fair elections and therefore should be a component in the mandate of an EMB. In many countries the powers to resolve electoral disputes has been vested in the EMB by law.
It is a fact that not all disputes are a result of deliberate acts of fraud. It therefore becomes crucial and apparent that a distinction needs to be drawn between a deliberate fraudulent action, and human error and therefore while some disputes that are logged are valid and legitimate there are those that are simply malpractice caused by negligence on the part of an official or a simple mistake that can be rectified on-the-spot and far from the common current buzz term “Election rigging”. In most cases no formal process of EDR is required.
In order to meet the objectives, of the workshop, the participants were taken through an intensive programme, which encompassed the following activities:
International Instruments, Standards and Principles,
Listed and explained the International Instruments and Electoral Rights, Listed and explained the standards and seven key Principles of EDR, Listed and explained the EMB characteristics and guiding principles
Identification of existing laws on EDR in Malawi and whether the legislation is clear in terms of the Roles and the powers of MEC
Dispute Risks (Refer. Attached Annexure 1)
Identification of Dispute Risks throughout the Electoral Cycle (Pre–Election phase, During Election phase and Post Election phase), Explored avenues to prevent disputes; Administratively/Operationally, through Public Out Reach, through Political party/Stakeholder Liaison, Legal review and reform
Identification of stakeholders who would need training and/or information on EDR, Conducted training needs analysis in terms of the content to be covered during the workshops or information sessions
Existing EDR systems/ The State of EDR in Malawi
Identification of existing EDR models in Malawi and whether these are effective in resolving the disputes in an expedient manner, The possible Role that MEC can play in order to facilitate in the acceleration of the process
Comparative studies on EDR
Presentation of EDR practices in other countries and comparative democracies, Sharing of experiences, lessons learnt, successes and challenges
Strategic Plan for EDR Action Plan (See attached Annexure 2)
Drafting of an action plan
Upon successful completion of the course, the participants who met all the requirements of the programme were awarded with certificates.
All participants as well as facilitators and organisers appreciated this initiative and have articulated the importance of this workshop and the information they’ve gained. Furthermore, this was viewed by all as a great opportunity to network and foster good relations between the EMB and political parties as it was intended.
During this workshop, Samuel Atuobi, who is a Senior Elections Officer, in the Electoral Assistance Unit; Political Affairs Division of the African Union Commission completed his fieldwork and was awarded with an accreditation certificate. He is now a fully accredited BRIDGE Facilitator. Well done Sam!
Thanking the host; Malawi Electoral Commission – IEC and the sponsor of the programme; the African Union Commission – AU, the facilitators and participants; wishing you all the best in your future endeavours