Of free, fair and fishy elections

Part A: “MEC ready for TPE 2014” sayeth the EU

The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections”. Lord Acton, the History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877

This is more or less the situation that Malawi finds itself in today. To fit the context even tighter, we take the liberty to revise this to read: the one pervading evil of democracy in Malawi is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of a party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force and fraud to influence the endorsement of debatable results; via the incompetence, duplicity and a worrisome acute deficiency of professionalism in the institution mandated by the Constitution to conduct elections.

Mchinji North 1The Electoral Commission, popularly known as the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), in the recent Tri-partite Election 2014 more than demonstrated:

  • Incompetence in the conduct of free and fair elections,
  • Failure to use its twenty year old institutional memory to learn from,
  • A worrisome denial to move with the rest of the world with respect to technology, and
  • Powerlessness, contrary to assurances saying otherwise, to deliver an electoral result it can validate.

In Malawi, for whatever reason, the truth – sooner or later – always comes out. And one day, the full story behind Tripartite Elections 2014 (TPE2014) will as sure as eggs is eggs, eventually come out.

But even before this happens several things are clear.

The first is that MEC was never ready to conduct a credible election, especially at the presidential level.

It is clear that MEC failed to properly plan for a whole range of logistics and if it had contingency plans, they were fundamentally flawed. And since garbage can only churn out garbage, the resultant mess was the only logical result.

The dirty nose of impending disaster showed as early as the voter registration phase, when MEC had to hurriedly retrieve and reschedule a voter verification exercise.

Reportedly, one distinguished senior citizen was captured on his voter certificate as born in 1982.

  • How the data entry clerk failed to notice this anomaly when doing the initial data capture, is a mystery.
  • How the officer who supposedly verified or validated the data processing failed to correct this, only the Chief Elections Officer can explain.
  • How, having gone through the notions of “processing” a voters roll containing such obvious gaffes, the end product was allowed to hit streets for verification can only be termed as dereliction of duty.

Despite all this, the press office continued sermonizing the public that MEC was ready, sentiments echoed and amplified by the chairperson of the institution; and feelings that were – somehow – swallowed hook, line and sinker by none other than the European Union emissary to Malawi, Alexander Baum and his British counterpart, Michael Nevin.

“Shut up you doomsayers” this duo schooled us, “MEC will deliver!”

Of course they were not this blunt. Being diplomats they sugar-coated the delivery; but the message got to us loud and clear. And we duly shut up.

Part B: the TPE 2014 Fiasco

We think that democracy can change a lot of things, but we’re being fooled, because democracy is not the election. We’ve been taught that democracy is having elections. And it isn’t. Elections are the most horrendous aspect of democracy. It’s the most mundane, trivial, disappointing, dirty aspect.” – Gael Garcia Bernal

IMG-20140526-WA0009Many Malawians, in the light of TPE 2014, agree with Gael Garcia Bernal. The 2014 Elections were the most horrendous aspect of our young democracy, the most disappointing and dirty of them all.

The TPE 2014 was an offence to democracy given that the chaos –from day one unto the very end – was a product of an institution that was, with a brush of arrogance, claiming to be “ready.”

What exactly MEC was “ready” for is difficult to fathom, but what MEC was not ready for is crystal clear. MEC was not ready to conduct an election, its’ very raison d’etre.

It is as simple as this.

This is shocking when one considers that MEC knows that every five years, the republican constitution requires the holding of elections; elections which save for the usual post-election complaints should produce credible results ceteris paribus, within the stipulated eight days from polling.

The Malawi Electoral Commission manufactured mess of May 2014 is surprising because Elections Management is not rocket science. And further, since MEC has been conducting elections from 1994 by now MEC should have mastered the art.

Or is it that what MEC has been conducting (1999, 2004 and 2019) were all staged and predetermined “elections”? Only that this time around the act got out of hand?

Part C: Can we call what MEC conducts, “Elections”?

All through the years of the Soviet empire, its Politburo held ‘elections.’ Of course, calling something an election and actually having it be an election are different things.” – Benazir Bhutto

IMG-20140526-WA0007The unique feature differentiating TPE 2014 with its precursors is the fact that, keen, desperate and determined to hide electoral malpractices and possible fraud in 2014 is a party not in control of state machinery.

This, analysts are arguing, is why MEC has, this time around, been exposed.

This line of thought implies that if this election has indeed been rigged, all previous elections were equally rigged, and with MEC’s complicity, the rigging well concealed.

The losing contestants of 1999, 2004 and even 2009 were very vehement in alleging that they had been robbed of victory. Proof? They had none. Why? Because when the referee (MEC) is the twelfth player in the other team, the complainant has no chance.

Naturally, as the “twelfth” player, MEC said otherwise and legal challenges were either thrown out of courts or left to die natural deaths.

Whatever the case and the truth, if indeed the glaring irregularities that have characterised TPE 2014 are anything to go by, it means that losers of 1999, 2004 and may be even 2009 had a point.

Paraphrasing one Gerald F. Lieberman; the 1999, 2004 and 2009 elections were held to delude the populace into believing that they were participating in government.

Factoring Benazir Bhutto’s insight above to Gerald F. Lieberman’s suspicion of electoral processes; it turns that what MEC has been conducting were not elections at all, rather some charade masqueraded as “elections”.

We have advice for Malawians regardless of where they stand with respect to the current impasse. It is high time the Constitution was revisited vis-à-vis electoral provisions.

IMG-20140526-WA0017The Election Act needs to be reconfigured, and by extension the Malawi Electoral Commission should be dissolved, re-constituted and all the senior people associated with it re-deployed elsewhere.

This is the only way to ensure that the newly re-configured entity has a sporting chance of conducting and delivering free and fair elections.

This is the only way out if Malawi is to avoid going in the direction of Kenya a few years back and other countries that have paid the ultimate price for mismanaged elections, or for elections that created and left opportunities for rigging. All these reforms will, in the short and long run, serves as the proverbial stitch in time that saves nine.

Part D: Conclusion

To wind up, MEC is like a fish decomposing from the head down (© Dr George Chaponda) and hence needs an overhaul. Secondly the whole legislative framework around the management of elections needs reform.

And both these, as far as we are concerned, require immediate redress; regardless of who has won or lost in this election.

Imagine what would have happened if the “rigging” was alleged to have been carried out by the “other” side. Would the “winners” of today have accepted the outcome?

Food for sober thought this one, because what goes around, comes around.

We rest our case.

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