Civic education crucial to counter voter apathy—MEC

Proper conduct of civic education is crucial for the achievement of free, fair and credible elections Commissioner of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), Nancy Tembo has said.

Tembo said this in Lilongwe when she opened a five-day workshop for civic educators drawn from the electoral body, National Initiative for Civic education (NICE), Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN).

She said that although the Commission has been organising elections for close to 20 years now civic education, still remain a crucial component in the achievement of free, fair and credible elections.

Commissioner Nancy Tembo when she was taking oath of office

“Every election comes with its own challenges and intricacies; hence civic education remains a pivotal process in creating an understanding of the electoral process,” Tembo said.

“ Civic education helps in renewing the interest and motivates the public to continuously participate in the various electoral processes,” she added.

The Commissioner said for every election, there are various target groups like the youth who are participating for the first time, the physically challenged and women, whose needs are different and need specific information to participate in the various electoral processes.

“We need effective civic education to appeal to these various target groups. I challenge you to come up with innovative and cost-effective means of conducting civic education so that we can reach out to as many people as possible,” she said.

Tembo also informed the participants that civic education was not for the voters alone but also other stakeholders like political parties, candidates, the media, community and faith based organizations, and civil society organizations.

She said the electoral body had identified a need to build the capacity of these stakeholders in civic education so that they are able to impart and discharge their duties with professionalism.

Tembo also announced that MEC, just like other elections management bodies (EMBs), has adopted an electoral cycle approach to elections in which elections are viewed as an ongoing activity with no end cycle rather than an isolated activity.

“It is with this view in mind that the commission has adopted an approach whereby it concentrates on building the capacity of its stakeholders and staff in between the ballots.

“Democracy is not a machine that self-reinforces itself. It needs efforts of all stakeholders and as a commission, our stakes are high. Therefore, civic education will remain a prime concern for the Commission in its efforts to develop an informed, effective and responsible citizenry,” she said.

Tembo noted that an informed electorate, that understands the electoral process, could help reduce queries that are received especially after announcing of election results.

“We have had cases where people have launched complaints with the commission or even threaten litigation over irregularities but later when we explain to them, they discover it was just a case of misunderstanding.

“Such cases can easily be avoided if we reach every stakeholder in the electoral process with information according to their need. You may think it is only the voters who need civic education, it is not,”Tembo said.

The training has been organized with support from the European Union under the Democratic Governance Programme and participants will cover a module on civic education under Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE).

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