When the High Court of Malawi, sitting as a Constitutional Court, annulled the 2019 presidential elections results and ordered a fresh election, the court explicitly mentioned the massive irregularities that had occurred, as well as the failure of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to adhere to electoral laws during the voting, counting and results transmission processes.

In other words, the court criticised the MEC for cutting corners under the guise of simplifying the electoral process for the benefit of political parties. On the flipside of the ruling the court also passed, albeit silently, a verdict on the political parties for failing to perform their duty by checking the actions of the electoral commission.

It is for this reason that Democracy Works Foundation Malawi (DWF Malawi) in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), organised regional training sessions for political parties to build their capacity in poll watching in order to sharpen their election monitoring skills.

From 5 – 16 June 2020, DWF conducted four regional training sessions, training a total of 252 master trainers for six political parties. The master trainers learnt to train party agents who would be deployed to polling stations in order to secure their parties’ votes.  The six parties include Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Peoples Party (PP), UTM and United Democratic Front (UDF). The training sessions were a culmination of meetings with the top leadership and party focal persons who agreed that it was important for all parties to embark on poll watching in order to avoid a recurrence of the 2019 situation.

“We need to develop a cadre that is capable of monitoring the election. But for that cadre to exist, party members must first understand the electoral process and the polling procedures followed on the election day including the voting procedure, results counting and transmission, among other things. We therefore want to applaud DWF and NDI for taking the initiative to train master trainers from our party who will go down into the constituencies to train our monitors.” Ben Phiri, Director of Elections in the DPP, also echoing the sentiments of MCP Deputy Director of Elections, Howard Kachipanda

During the strategic planning workshop that was held on 1 April 2020, Kachipanda informed DWF and NDI that MCP has realised the importance of elections monitoring and would deploy its best personnel to serve as focal persons, master trainers and monitors at all levels.

Apart from the strategic level planning meeting which was attended by Secretary Generals and Directors of Elections of the six parties, DWF and NDI also coordinated several follow-up meetings with focal persons whom the parties had designated to steer and coordinate the poll-watching exercise. The focal persons also supported the review and validation of the training manual that had been revised to accommodate the changes made to the polling procedures as directed by the constitutional court. The training was staggered in four phases starting with Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Mangochi and finally Blantyre. With the support of the focal persons who facilitated internal coordination meetings and developed training plans and agendas for each party at every region, trainings of downstream party monitors commenced at every region immediately after each regional training was completed.

At the end of the training in Mangochi, Jones Milazi, a UDF master trainer, said the cross-party trainings demonstrated that Malawians valued unity, peace and coexistence despite their political differences.

“In the past few months, we have seen opposition parties and CSO groups going into the streets to protest the results of the elections. We have also seen those on the ruling side demonstrating against some court orders. Nobody would think that the ruling and opposition parties would be able to sit together in one place without any incidences.  But this training has shown that we all value peace. I urge all of us here to preach peace wherever we go. There is going to be one winner after the elections so let us be prepared to win or to lose the election.” Jones Milazi, a UDF master trainer

Speaking after the final round of trainings in Blantyre were completed, Director of Elections for Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) David Katete said DWF is a real partner because it brings interventions that are relevant to the needs of political parties. He said despite being lean on staff and budget, DWF has helped resuscitate political parties and made them realise why they exist. He recalled that among other activities, DWF has conducted capacity assessments for political parties, started strategic planning for political parties and also strengthened for the second time in two years the parties’ ability to monitor elections.

Chief of Party for DWF Dr Augustine Magolowondo reminded political parties that election monitoring remained fundamental to political parties as they strive to secure their votes. He urged all parties to be strategic in their selection and deployment of monitors.

“The revised polling procedures have somehow changed the game for political parties in terms of how monitoring is done. As political parties, you have to ensure that you place your best people at the centres that matter most and these include the polling station and the district tally centre, among others. It is not enough to place people at these places but you must ensure that the people who have been deployed are capable people and know what they should do.” Chief of Party for DWF Dr Augustine Magolowondo

Random interviews with some of the master trainers showed that all parties had finished their downstream trainings a few days before the polling date. The trainers commended DWF for providing them with technical support through trainings and providing them with the materials that they had used to train their monitors.

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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