Credibility of observers in Malawi elections questioned

The credibility, reputation and integrity of some international observers who assessed the conduct of the first ever tripartite elections in Malawi between May 20 and 23, 2014, may have been irreparably damaged following serious errors of assessment of the electoral process.

While the European Union (EU) said in its preliminary report that voting was done amidst “considerable organizational shortcomings”, SADC and African Union (AU) election observers surprisingly endorsed elections in Malawi as having been free and fair.

SADC and AU assessments blatantly differ from that of the three main political parties—People’s Party (PP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Democratic Front (UDF), as well as that of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), which has finally admitted there was massive fraud during the just ended polls, calling for a month-long recount of votes across the country.

Chief Observer Véronique De Keyser pointed out that Malawi Electoral Commission reacted to the numerous obstacles
Chief Observer Véronique De Keyser pointed out that Malawi Electoral Commission reacted to the numerous obstacles

Some of the alleged irregularities included discarded and tampered with ballot papers being found at polling centres, polling officers signing for results for different polling centres and number of voters far exceeding the number of actual registered voters, among others.

“MEC’s decision to listen to Malawians and not deranged confussionists disguised as ‘international observers’ is pace-setting in a continent that believes in everything foreigners tell them.

“It is this kind of boldness, self-confidence, sense of purpose and sense of direction displayed by MEC to order a recount of votes that will positively shape this country in our pursuit for rapid social, political and economic development,” a civil and political rights activist Chikondi Butao Banda told Nyasa Times in an interview, adding the “so-called international observers” were a disgrace and deterrent to Africa’s democratization process.

In its preliminary assessment of the electoral process in Malawi, the SADC observer team “concluded that the 2014 Tripartite Elections in the Republic of Malawi were peaceful, free, transparent and credible, reflecting the will of the people of Malawi”, urging “all political parties and candidates who contested these elections, to respect the will of the people”.

The SADC team also commended the MEC for conducting and managing the 2014 tripartite elections in a transparent manner.

An AU observer mission on Friday also endorsed the elections as “generally credible”. The head of the AU team and former Namibian President Sam Nujoma said in his mission’s preliminary statement that the elections were conducted in a largely transparent manner in accordance to the legal framework of Malawi and international standards.

Butao Banda said the observers’ claims were erroneous and “embarrassing to say the least” if MEC’s admission is anything to go by.

He said most of the international observers relied on newspapers and other media in assessing the electoral process instead of physically visiting the remotest polling places and interviewing “the real people on the ground”.

“How could they spot the discovered fraudulent acts and other massive voting irregularities when they were brooded up in the comfort of their hotels enjoying tea, coffee and whiskies,” he wondered, adding one would not describe an election as free and fair where in some cases votes counted were four times more than the actual number of the registered voters.

The civil and political rights activist said it was heartening that MEC never looked “over its shoulders or buried its head like an ostrich in the sand” when it made the decision to recount all the votes.

“To have been able to make such a decision amid court injunctions, cynicism and criticism, needed the rare combination of boldness and self-confidence. MEC must be commended at all cost,” he said.

Butao Banda said international election observation, which focuses on civil and political rights, is part of international human rights monitoring and must be conducted on the basis of the highest standards for impartiality concerning national political competitors.

He said international observers must recognize that it is the people of a country who ultimately determine credibility and legitimacy of an election process.

And yet, against the background of tense situation, with all the evidence proving fraud readily available, the European Union’s Election Observer Mission (EOM) branded the bogus election; free, fair and credible.

Veronique de Keyser, Chief Observer of the EOM said she felt the Electoral Commission had acted impartially and that the election had been handled professionally.

Ironically, the EOM is a signatory of the ‘Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation’ which states that “genuine democratic elections are an expression of sovereignty, which belongs to the people of a country, the free expression of whose will provides the basis for the authority and legitimacy of government.”

The consequences of the statement that de Keyser made is that the otherwise dubious elections have been presented to the international community as being up to standard.

Electoral observation and monitoring have become an integral part of the democratic and electoral processes around the world.

Some analysts have been critical of the electoral commission’s conduct of the poll, which they said could undermine the credibility of the vote.

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