Recent Constitutional Court ruling in Malawi provides learning opportunity for political parties

A Democracy Works Foundation (DWF) Policy Dialogue between six political parties in Lilongwe, Malawi, has given the parties an opportunity to draw learnings from the recent Constitutional Court ruling against an application to suspend a judgement annulling last May’s elections. Proposed constitutional and electoral law amendments were also discussed. The Policy Dialogue provided political parties a platform to dissect and understand key issues arising from both the court ruling and the proposed legal reforms.

The policy dialogue, held on 12 March 2020, was held by DWF’s USAID-funded Southern Africa Political Parties and Dialogue (SAPP&D) programme, which is run in partnership with Freedom House.

The May 2019 ruling, with the proposed legal reforms, has wide ramifications not only for politics but also for the roles and functioning of various actors and stakeholders in political and electoral processes in Malawi.  Political parties, given their central role in any democratic society, must grapple with the implications of this ruling and the electoral and constitutional amendments.

Dr. Augustine Magolowondo, the DWF Chief of Party for the SAPP&D programme, opened the workshop by highlighting the importance for political parties to isolate and draw lessons that help them to be well informed, better prepared and strategically positioned as pillars of democracy and fundamental players in political and electoral processes.

There are plenty of strategic issues that the recent court ruling has brought to bear that political parties should reflect on and learn from. For instance, the courts clearly underscored the importance of political party poll agents. From past experience, this is an undertaking for which parties tend not to strategically and effectively plan. Furthermore, political parties need to review the role they play in the appointment of electoral commissioners. They need to ask themselves what are the criteria that they follow when nominating their respective candidates for the position of Election Commissioner – Dr Augustine Magolowondo

Professor Edge Kanyongolo, the University of Malawi Constitutional Law expert, said the key lesson that the court ruling presents to political parties is that parties should identify monitors who have capacity to maintain proper records and to testify ably in court. Professor Kanyongolo advised that with elections becoming increasingly technical, political parties should be represented at all levels by individuals with specialist skills in IT, accounting, electoral law and administration. Parties must also urgently address the need to have organisational development plans that would allow them to function as proper institutions.

Dr. Boniface Dulani, a Political Scientist, warned political parties that with the proposed majoritarian presidential electoral system of 50%+1, parties need to revisit electoral strategies to secure support from majority of the population. It is vital for political parties to strengthen their capacities to undertake research to ensure that their alliances and coalitions are based on and respond to the people’s needs.

Political party representatives present at the workshop expressed their views on the court ruling and the lessons extracted. Otria Moyo, Director of Protocol for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said that the presence of well-trained and knowledgeable monitors at polling stations ensures that polling officers conduct their duties professionally as well as instilling confidence in the electorate on the integrity of their vote.

Andrew Nkhana, National Organising Secretary for the United Democratic Front (UDF), stated that the elections case exposed several gaps in how political parties engage in elections. It provided an opportunity for political parties to identify their weakness and devise mechanisms to strengthening their structures in order to engage at a higher level.

We need to go back to the drawing board and reflect on how as parties we have been participating in elections. Obviously, we have not been vigilant enough and have not taken poll-watching seriously. This should serve as an eye-opener to us to do better in future.Andrew Nkhana

DWF, in collaboration with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), stands ready to support the six political parties in training of master trainers for poll-watching in the event that fresh presidential elections are held.

Six parties –  namely Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), UDF, Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), Peoples Party (PP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM – attended the policy dialogue which DWF organised within the framework of the SAPP&D Programme, a USAID-funded initiative that seeks to strengthen political parties in Southern Africa so that they are more responsive to people’s needs and aspirations. The programme is active in Malawi, Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, and eSwatini.

About DWF

Democracy Works Foundation (DWF) is a southern African non-profit company focused on democracy development in the region. With headquarters in South Africa, DWF works through its country offices to provide tools to develop and build resilient democracies. DWF also has offices in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, and eSwatini.

As an independent foundation, we build and promote inclusive, equitable and sustainable consensus democracies for development. . We do so by providing tools, platforms and content to strengthen democrats, democratic culture and democracy institutions. 

DWF opened its doors in 2014 in response to the weakening of public institutions, corruption and declining public participation in South Africa as well as concerns about democratic and development progress in post-liberation Southern Africa.

DWF works on the supply and demand side of democracy. We operate across several programmatic areas:

  • Monitoring: we collect data, do research and provide analysis on the state of democracies.
  • Institutions: we support the capacity of democracy institutions to fulfil their mandates.
  • Citizens and leaders: we train future democrats to drive change.
  • Climate and democracy:  we strengthen the capacity of communities and democracy institutions to prioritise climate change initiatives. 
  • Culture: we provide platforms for democratic engagement to cultivate new ideas for democracy.

Additionally, the Foundation provides advisory services on good governance and social impact and functions as a fiscal host and fund manager.

We believe that democracy is always a work in progress. It is often challenged and never complete. DWF is uniquely placed to continuously invest in and nurture resilient democracy and development. 

Henry holds a degree in Journalism and a Masters Degree in Political Science from the University of Malawi. He has over ten years of experience in the field of governance working with political parties, civil society, and strengthening civic spaces for citizen participation in governance. Henry has worked with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) as the Programme Officer responsible for Issue-based civic and voter education, Presidential debates, and local government.

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