We, at Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep) have learnt with great disturbance the recent media reports attributable to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Maxon Mbendera that the electoral body was under immerse pressure from some underhand manoeuvres by the former President Dr. Joyce Banda to influence the outcome of May 20 2014 tripartite elections results.
According to Mbendera’s testimony as cited in the Daily Times of Thursday, 02nd October, 2014, the former President, among other undemocratic tendencies, ordered the Malawi Defence Forces (MDF) to force MEC to conduct vote recount. Mbendera further intimated that some political parties were pressuring their (representative) commissioners to take their orders during the electoral period.
We, at CHRR and Cedep find the conduct—if true—a big dent on the country’s democracy.Incumbent Presidents should not drape themselves in the false fantasy that they are above the law, especially in an electoral period which accords voters the opportunity choose who they want govern them. Political parties should also not be allowed to abuse their privileged representation in the commission in order to advance their selfish agenda. In a democratic leadership, legitimacy is a cardinal virtue Malawians of good will must jealously guard. In this regard, we at CHRR and Cedep implore the relevant authorities to conduct swift, thorough investigations on Mbendera’s claims so that all Malawians of good will are kept abreast of the truth of what happened in the highly controversial tripartite elections. Grapple
It is no secret that till to-date several stakeholders both locally and internationally are still grappling with the mystery that surrounded the 2014 tripartite elections, and Mbendera’s recent claims should hence be viewed as a step towards unmasking the mystery in 2014 tripartite elections. Mbendera’s claims should hence not be taken lightly but rather swift, independent investigations, guided by the democratic principles of justice and fairness, should be invoked on the matter.
Having said that, we at CHRR and Cedep, feel MEC, too, had its own share of regrettable mishaps during the May 20, 2014 elections which went a long in putting the credibility of the results into disrepute. Late arrival of ballot papers in some centres leading to rioting by some voters; failure to publish and make available the voter roll in good time; controversies surrounding the verification and registration process; irregularities in terms of the total number of valid votes cast against that in the voters’ roll, plus failure to heed and speedily address vote recount calls are some of the issues that remain a bitter pill to swallow by several stakeholders. Even in cases where MEC admitted the irregularities warranting it call for a vote recount, there was clearly lack of political will on the part of the commission to own, ground and implement its decision. It was as if the MEC chair, commissioners and the rest of the team were bulldozed into signing and taking such a decision.
Instead of unrelentingly standing by its decision for a voter recount, all Malawians could get from the Commission was the voice of uncertainty with the commission intimating that they would respect whatever rulling the court would make on the matter. On whether the high court’s ruling would interfere with the validity of the process and the legitimacy of the outcome, as insinuated in their submission call for a recount, hence calling for the commission’s subsequent appeal to a higher court, that is if the decision would go against their plea, seemed to be of no concern to the commission. All this coupled by a majority of MEC’s commissioners’ leaked letter questioning the validity of the 2014 Tripartite elections outcome, clearly point to a commission that did not only fail the nation big time but also was and is incompetent and hence has a share of blame – if not a lion’s share of it – behind the electoral failure of 2014 Tripartite elections.
As such, we at CHRR and Cedep are surprised that 4 months down the line the MEC chairperson and the rest of his team (of commissioners) are still at the helm of the commission despite the above shortfalls that rendered their competence and credibility into question. More insulting to the intellect of most Malawians has been the perennial attempts of “self-image saving” by the MEC Chairperson of shifting the blame on fellow commissioners (from political parties) as partly behind the Tripartite elections irregularities in the process rendering himself a ‘saint’ or an angel in the whole process when Malawians clearly know that the whole team was a mess including the chairperson who ironically had more powers than the rest of the commissioners. The MEC chairperson has often been quoted in the media calling for electoral reforms which would put an end to inclusions of political party representatives as MEC commissioners.
While such calls may be necessary as echoed by several quarters in the country in order to address the observed challenge of political partys’ influence on the commissioners, we at CHRR and Cedep strongly believe that Mbendera has no moral mandate to join such chorus of reforms based on his incompetence and dismal performance as MEC chair in the just ended Tripartite elections, and if there is any reform that Justice Mbendera has the moral obligation to advocate for is “his own reform”. After all, in the absence of a clear authentic investigations into what really happened during the Tripartite elections, it is difficult to clearly establish that the commissioners (from political parties) were specifically, out of the entire team of commissioners, the main culprits behind the 2014 Tripartite electoral failure hence warranting specific reforms. However, what is clear at least for now based on the foregoing is the fact that MEC was a mess, and that the entire team of commissioners led by Justice Mbendera have a large share of the blame.
We at CHRR and Cedep therefore re-new our call for Justice Maxon Mbendera SC to honourably step down as Mec chairperson to protect the integrity of the electoral body. The same should apply to all commissioners. No matter how hard the Mec chair tries to dust himself clean from the electoral dirt, there are still several stakeholders who feel— given the aforementioned electoral debacles that happened on his watch– —that he cannot be entrusted with a national exercise such as tripartite elections or any future elections including the 2019 elections in mind. Otherwise, such kind of belated revelations will never wash Mbendera’s own battered image especially considering that they are coming four months after the elections with some quarters already questioning the motives behind such revelations.
Why should it take Mbendera so long to make such revelations when in fact he had all the time to do so during the electoral period when the nation had short of answers to the mystery that characterised the Tripartite elections? Premised on such, we at CHRR and Cedep cannot agree more with the prevailing observations by some quarters that MEC Chair’s recent statements raises more questions than answers, hence the justifiable need to conduct independent investigations into the whole saga. Mbendera’s stepping down would hence pave way for smooth, effective investigations into his recent claims implicating the former head of state of her intentions to manipulate the electoral process, and any other issues bouldering on unearthing the mystery behind the 2014 Tripartite elections.
About CHRR and CEDEP
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) remains one of the leading human rights non-governmental organisations in Malawi. It was founded in February 1995 as a non-profit organization registered under the Trustees Incorporation Act of 1962. Since its inception CHRR has championed its work at national level, SADC level through the SADC Human Rights Defenders Network at which it sits in the board, continental level through the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights using its observer status, and at UN level through different UN mechanisms such as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCR) and Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
Centre for Development of the People (CEDEP) is a registered human rights organisation under the Trustees Incorporation Act of 1962. The organization was established in November 2005 in order to address the needs and challenges of minority groups in Malawi in the context of human rights, health and social development. CEDEP works also at international level using international mechanisms such as the African commission and UN mechanisms such as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCR) and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
Timothy Mtambo Gift Trapence
Executive Director CHRR Executive Director CEDEP)
Cell: 0992166191 Cells: 0991573514
Issued in Lilongwe, Malawi on Monday, 6th October, 2014