Nyali Means Change: The June 14, 1993 Referendum in Malawi, Final Activity Report, IFES Monitoring, Voter Education, and Pollworker Training Project

Publication Date: 
29 Jul 1993

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

From April 23 until June 20, 1993, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) conducted an election assistance project in Malawi. The project was designed as part of the United Nations Electoral Assistance Secretariat's program and was financed through US AID/Malawi mission funds.

The objectives for the Malawi Referendum Support Project were specified in the Scope of Work section of PIO/T No. 612-0234-3-20030 and 612-0234-3-30002. These objectives, matching those in IFES' project proposal, were the following:

         to inform voters in Malawi of the importance and implications of the June 14, 1993 referendum;

         to train polling officials so the referendum is efficient and fair;

         to monitor compliance with referendum regulations and international standards for a free and fair referendum; and

         to inform USAID/Malawi of appropriate approaches/activities to support in future democracy/governance efforts.

To achieve these objectives, IFES designed a comprehensive technical assistance project composed of three elements. A team of monitors would travel to Malawi several weeks prior to the referendum to evaluate the ongoing preparations and environment leading to the exercise. A voter education consultant would work with the Malawi National Referendum Commission to ensure wide dissemination of relevant information covering the referendum. Finally, a team of trainers would work with election officials to create a group of individuals who could train the bulk of the thousands of pollworkers needed for the referendum.

Each of the project elements carried its own set of objectives. These are discussed in the chapters relating to specific project activity. In addition to carrying out the stated objectives, the IFES project team provided assistance in the areas of election equipment design and distribution, referendum procedures and international observer activities.

The process of registration, whose period was extended to May 8, was generally fair and efficient. Everyone who cared to register was able to do so. Extraordinarily high registration figures were due in part to voters registered in 1992 re-registering or registering at different locations, and in part to the increased desire of the people to vote in the referendum. The campaign period saw a rapid improvement of the playing ground for opposition pressure groups, increasing their ability to take their message to voters all around the country. Biases in state radio reporting and in the granting of permission for holding public meetings, however, kept the atmosphere from being completely fair.

Working throughout the three regions of Malawi, four IFES monitors provided the UN Electoral Assistance Secretariat with ongoing information about political group activity, the general atmosphere surrounding the referendum, the level of information provided to Malawian citizens regarding the referendum, and the effect of these elements on Referendum Day. The monitors were able to visit hundreds of registration and polling centers throughout the three regions of the country, keeping records of observations and continuously following up on suspected election infractions. The monitors also served as resources for international observers and others interested in the referendum process. This monitoring effort is noteworthy for its length and provokes discussion about the larger role international monitors can play without interfering in a country's election process.

The voter education component provided an opportunity for the Referendum Commission to work with an experienced educator who could assist the Commission in its obligation to inform citizens of Malawi about their rights and responsibilities as voters. The IFES consultant and the Commission developed not only a mechanism for distributing information about voting procedures, but also a forum for dialogue regarding the related issues of democracy, governance and public participation civil society. Together, they designed a diverse voter education program using radio, posters, town hall meetings and theater to bring the information to as many Malawians as possible.

Four IFES trainers, the Referendum Commission and several hundred election officials collaborated in preparation for the administration of the June 14 referendum. The design and implementation of the pollworker training project was a challenge from the beginning, as less than a month before the referendum, there existed no consensus on the procedures or regulations that would be in force. The training team designed a manual and a training program to distribute procedural information as soon as it was available. The manual, printed in two languages, served as the definitive document for the administration of the referendum.

The four IFES monitors and two pollworker trainers remained in Malawi to become part of the UN's Joint International Observer Group for the June 14 Referendum. On the balance, the majority of stations that the 210 observers visited on Referendum Day were administered by trained officials, using their training manuals and voter education posters as references. Counting went on into the afternoon of June 15 for the larger districts. On Wednesday, June 16, the official announcement of the referendum results was that the multiparty option had received 63 % of the vote to the MCP's 34%, with 3% null and void ballots. Consistent comments regarding the completion of the Official Report - the form used to record the results of the voting and counting procedures and any related complaints - demonstrate a need for election workers to pay special attention to this crucial part of the process.

As stated above, the IFES project was conducted in coordination with the UN Electoral Assistance Secretariat. The IFES team shared the offices, coordinators, support staff and transportation of the Secretariat throughout the project period. The success of all components of the IFES project is largely attributable to the cooperative relationship between IFES and the Electoral Assistance Unit.

The completion of the project provided an opportunity for all of the team members to make observations and recommendations regarding future areas worth attention in the changing Malawian political and electoral context. A new voter registry, a permanent election commission, and a code of conduct for political parties were seen as the most immediate and obvious needs. More long-term areas included fundamental changes in the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation's news broadcast content, voter and civic education programs, ensuring accountability in campaign and election practice, and increasing the role and visibility of women in Malawi's political development. Many of these objectives can be achieved with the continued interest and support of the international community. 

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