Malawi: Strengthening Democratic Institutions - Final Activity Report
The second IFES Technical Assistance Project in Malawi was conducted from January 1994 until March 1995. The project, under Grant #612-0243-G-00-3008-00, combined direct election assistance with election monitoring, training and legislative support to the Malawi National Electoral Commission. In the fourteen month-span of this project, IFES provided assistance in the pre-election, election day and postelection periods.
Narrative and financial information on the activities performed through the May 17, 1994 general elections is contained in the activity report for that period (issued in June 1994). This report focuses on the second phase of project activities and subsequently takes a global view of the IFES activities in Malawi from March 1993 to the present.
The second phase of project activity under this grant, entitled "Strengthening Democratic Institutions in Malawi", had as its goal the creation of a permanent, independent election administration organ, which would become part of the Malawian civil and governance sector. A permanent electoral body is a feature of most democratic countries, even within electoral systems where elections may be called following the dissolution of Parliament. The main purpose of such a body is to ensure preparedness for any electoral process, whether it is periodic or called. It may expand to perform the various tasks associated with a national election, or for another special effort.
From November 1994 to March 1995, IFES provided two advisors to the Electoral Commission: Leticia Martinez, the on-site Project Manager, and Michael Maley, a member of the Australian Electoral Commission. Martinez assisted the Commission in a number of areas. She first analyzed the internal structure of the Commission secretariat and worked with the Commissioners to develop a more efficient organization and work plan. Next, she examined the financial controls and accounting to determine where such functions would be placed in a permanent organization. As a mechanism for reaching a broader consensus on the Commission's plans for a permanent support staff and on its recommendations for changes to the electoral law, Martinez introduced the concept of a seminar, during which the members of the Commission would present their views on selected topics, and after which the Commission would have a strengthened legitimacy to recommend changes in the electoral law and other election-related matters.
As the project developed, the seminar expanded to two events: a workshop/retreat for the Commissioners to refine their report topics and to prepare to discuss them, held from January 23-25; and a conference moderated by the Commissioners, which a number of senior level officials in the Malawian Government attended from February 14-16. Four topics emerged as the subjects of the workshop and conference: the permanence and independence of the Electoral Commission; local government elections; critical events in the electoral process calendar; and the role of political parties. Martinez was assisted in the preparation and organization of the two gatherings by Michael Maley. Program Officer Laurie Cooper traveled to Malawi to help with conference preparation. The conference, attended by a large number of international representatives, was a success. It represented the first time that majority and opposition politicians were gathered in a room with the National Electoral Commission since last year's election. Following the second meeting, Martinez and Cooper remained on-site to support the presentation of the Commission's findings at the Constitutional Conference. They began a dialogue with the Electoral Commission about its priorities for the coming year, as well as a discussion about the longer-term goals of the Commission.
IFES was honored to be present at the Malawi Constitutional Conference, held February 20-25 in Lilongwe. In addition to reviewing the current draft constitution (which enters into force on May 18, 1995) the assembly agreed to the creation of a second legislative house and declared (within its limited authority) that the designation of a Second Vice President, for any purpose, was not in keeping with the principles of the Constitution. The delegates also directly confronted the issue of women in positions of government as well as within Malawian society. Clearly, the persons who have been entrusted with the charting of Malawi's future are ready to discuss and take decisive action on issues which were taboo just three years ago. The Electoral Commission conference, which immediately preceded the Constitutional Conference, was able to take advantage of the spirit of compromise and consensus to present its issues in an important and historic forum.
Following the Constitutional Conference, the members of the Malawi National Electoral Commission worked to set priorities and to develop a task calendar for the coming 36 months. The Commission has been charged with administration of the local government elections, the review of ward boundary delimitation, and the creation of a permanent voter registry. At the same time, the current Commission has set as a priority the creation and training of its own secretariat to administer national and local elections, to maintain the voter register, and to perform periodic election-related duties. The secretariat would be linked to the entire country via district-based election offices. The commissioners themselves would step back from the day-to-day operations to be more like a corporate board of directors.
The project activities and outcome exceeded the objectives in certain ways. Although the objectives of developing and enacting legislation related to the Electoral Commission are still in the development stage, the Commission is in a more effective position to clearly articulate its interests than it was in November. The seminar or conference which was planned as the opportunity for unveiling and ratifying the legislation evolved into a thoughtful debate on issues related directly and indirectly to the elections and to the future of democracy in Malawi. Given the changing political climate anchored by the constitutional process in which Malawi is involved, the timing and activities of the project have made an historic impact on the current and upcoming governance activities in Malawi.