Elections are by their very nature conflict prone. No one goes into an election expecting to lose although the fact remains that there will be only one winner. With the tense and suspicion that surrounds the electoral period conflict is not absent.
There is need for proper mechanism to manage conflict during elections otherwise it may degenerate into unmanageable levels which have got potential to derail and undermine efforts by all stakeholders to hold free, fair and credible elections.
One of the means that the Malawi Electoral Commission has put in place to manage conflict is by setting up Multiparty Liaison Committees (MPLCS). The idea to set up the MPLCs was mooted in the run up to the Local Government Elections in 2000 whereby the Commission was overwhelmed with complaints from electoral stakeholders. The Commission did not have capacity to timely address all complaints most of which were happening at the grassroots level. Thereby an idea was hatched to come up with structures that would manage and settle electoral disputes at district level. The MPLCs have proved to be effective since then and each and every council has its own committee.
The MPLCs are a grouping of leaders all political parties at district level, however, its composition changes during the elections period. Only parties that are featuring candidates are the ones recognized to be members. Also independents candidates or their representatives are incorporated into the MPLCs during the elections period.
Apart from representatives of political parties, other members of the MPLCs are the District Commissioners or Chief Executives of councils, the Officer In-Charge of Police, the District Education Manager, In-charge of CID, National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) officer, District Information Officer, a representative of Public Affairs Committee, two Traditional Authorities and District Elections clerks from MEC. The DC or CEO is always the chairperson while theDirector of Administration at the council serves as the secretary..
These MPLCs have been trained by MEC in conflict management. When there is an electoral dispute or complaint, which is not criminal in nature, the complainant is advised to take up the issue with the MPLC. The MPLCs have an advantage because they are based in the district thereby nearer to the scene of the problem. Depending on the nature and gravity of the issue, the complaint can be resolved by the MPLC if not then it is referred to the MEC head office. However, over years it has proved that most of the complaints have been ably, efficiently and timely resolved by the MPLCs to the satisfaction of all concerned parties. In such situation whereby an issue has been resolved by the MPLC, the MEC is furnished with a report of the resolution of the MPLC.
*The author is spokesman of Malawi Electoral Commission
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