By Guest Writer Wisdom Yassin Malata
If history was to be consulted through her authorized spokespersons, the Historians, it would tell us that Malawi- since independence- was known as, and used to be called the “warm heart of Africa”, where people of different religious, ethnic and political backgrounds used to co-exist. Those trusted with position of influence were also known for their integrity, professionalism and hardworking. No wonder in one of the workshops I attended in Maputo in 2007, a participant from South Africa, observed, “ It is only in Malawi you can find people of integrity and honor who will follow the rules of the game to the letter”. Although these sentiments may yield to nothing but merely an over tone, they have some grain of truth that may be used to measure our current realities, especially in the wake of the fresh elections , following the constitutional court ruling of the 3rd February, 2020.
That MEC has announced the official calendar for the elections, which according to them will take place on 2nd of July, 2020, contrary to the proposition by parliament of the 19th May, 2020; and that the divide among Malawians on whether MEC is trading professionally or not is dangerously becoming wider, is the more reason we should reflect soberly on the issue as a people that love their country, and identify common grounds on which to responsibly exercise our respective duties and freedoms. What is overtly known is that the general elections conducted on 21st May, 2019 and the subsequent court case, bruised the public image of MEC and other state institutions like Malawi Police, MACRA, and MBC among others. Comments on social media, are so revealing of the anger some Malawians have on these institutions and how much they may not be trusted if an election is to be conducted today. But whether MEC and others will be trusted or not, is the subject for another day. Rather, this articles seeks to explore the opportunities the elections are providing now and going forward in re-gaining the lost public trust of MEC . It is clear to me that what has angered the citizens who are against them is well known by them and can easily be addressed as the angered citizens realizes that MEC has the legal mandate to manage elections in Malawi. MEC should however, not attempt to fight the general public in trying to prove their point, as doing so will be the recipe for more anger among the aggrieved quarters of the society; and the petrol through which Malawi will be put on fire.
Moving forward towards the fresh elections, whether on the 19th May or the 2nd July, 2020, it is important to realize that we are first and foremost Malawians, whose home is nowhere else but Malawi, and anything evil we do to our country will hit on us hard. Both MEC and all stakeholders should be responsible enough in handling the elections to come. Our differences clear though they are, should not lead us to the “Awona nyekhwe Syndrome” in which we are planning to use our powers irresponsibly just to inflict pain on our perceived opponents. MEC has the power to manage the elections and determine the results, and may choose to be professional or otherwise, while on the contrary the citizens demonstrating mistrust on MEC have the numbers and may cause untold havoc if MEC decides against them. It is important to put Malawi first and bury the hatchet and move forward. If given a chance, MEC should follow the rules to the letter and avoid unnecessary biases by reminding themselves of section 6 of the constitution of Malawi that ..” the authority to govern derives from the people of Malawi as expressed through universal and equal suffrage in an election held in accordance with(the) constitution and in a manner prescribed by the Act of Parliament” . They must know that any act that seem to or completely deviate from the provision of the Law, will also be another cause of discomfort and may lead to another wave instability, which prayerfully should not be the portion of Malawi. Lessons from the occurrences of the May 21 general elections, can serve to guide MEC this time around. I always find comfort in assuming that MEC did not intentionally want to see the sadistic ending that the general elections in question brought and that it would at all cost avoid this in the Fresh elections to come. In line with section 76 (d), MEC must desist from engaging in political cronyism with any of the contesting parties and ensure total compliance with the provision of our constitution and any of the related and stipulated acts of parliament, if indeed a free election is to be achieved.
The MEC with divided commissioners is also a potential threat to the anticipated free, fair and credible elections. Their conduct should in my view not leave no room for speculations, and fear for possible mismanagement. For example, where the electoral chair is often seen close to commissioners representing the same party, one may speculate that there is an ill motive for doing so. Given the revelations from the live broadcasts of the inquiries by the parliamentary appointment committee (PAC), as part implementation of the Constitutional court ruling, that the commissioners are divided, it is then proper for the commission to change this public perception by among others rotating the sitting plan of the commissioners when holding public functions. It will surely add colour, in my view, if in one function the Chairlady of MEC sits close to commissioner Nkosi and Is seen sharing light moments, to clear the speculations that are ripe, that Commissioner Nkosi is being sidelined for her board stand during PAC inquiries.
Likewise all the electoral stakeholders fighting MEC should be prepared for two realities and thus; either the elections will be conducted by the other MEC officials and commissioners or by the same headed by Jane Ansah. In view of this, they should psychologically position themselves into this reality to avoid unnecessary, yet preventable shocks, when the unexpected happens. It should be known that either way, the name MEC will be at the center with either the same people or others. What is clear is that it is only MEC that is mandated to run elections in Malawi and that MEC officials are no bigger than the laws governing elections in Malawi. While exercising their rights, citizens and institutions under which they voice out their concerns should know that against every right there is a corresponding duty; and the duty is also to respect the same law MEC is to respect. Yes, citizens have expressed their views to have MEC chair Dr. Jane Ansah nowhere near the election exercise for the past 9 months to no avail, and that their anger is exacerbated each time they see her, but it should be known that she hitherto remains the Chair and that for the court order to be implemented meaningfully , there are some administrative processes that should be running that requires the commission in place. This does not discourage the discontented groupings to advance with other legally appropriate avenues for redress, but merely remind them of this reality, which is also within the legal realms as of now.
To me the forth coming Presidential elections are the opportunity for unity among Malawians and the chance for MEC to correct the past mistakes. It is worth advising MEC to stop operating in unnecessary fears or being under political influence; and stick to the rules, and demonstrate a sense of impartiality for them to be trusted. The electoral Stakeholders, on the hand should while cautiously observing MEC; provide the necessary moral support for the commissioners to discharge their duties. Let us not lose the unity that Malawi was once known for because of electoral issue. Let us love our country by preserving peace at all times, to include during the forth coming elections. Let us desist from innuendos that may promote violence among Malawians of dissenting political views. Let MEC respect the will of the people, by avoiding acts that will affect the credibility of the forth coming elections.
A free and fair election is possible for Malawi if all stakeholders agree to attain it.