RE: first postings from JHR

My blog postings on JHR’s site will be viewable soon. But for now here is one from one of my collegues in Malawi.

Time running out?

by Philippa Croome on July 20, 2010 · 0 comments

in IYIP Rights Media Internships,Malawi

Oh, elections. Back home, they seem to pop up more often than not. Voter turnout is low, apathy even worse. But we don’t doubt that every however often, they’ll happen.

Here in Malawi, it’s been a decade since the last local elections. And after the scheduled May election was once again bumped to November 23, (on top of the 2005 elections being avoided due to financial constraints pegged on the famine), the skepticism surrounding these elections is hardly surprising.

“They’re not going to happen,” a co-worker tells me. He says the government is scared – of decentralization that would threaten the governing DPP’s hold, and of losing the control they’ve become accustomed to.

Last year, Parliament approved of giving MPs voting power at the local level. It means the minister of justice, also an MP, will have control at every level of government.

“There is already a structure in the country – we need to have elections to fill the people into that structure,” says Unandi Banda, Executive Director of the National Elections Systems Trust, a local NGO that looks to educate the electoral base.

“So far the Electoral Commission is saying they have not received resources from the treasury and development partners to start activities…but it is our prayer that these activities start as soon as possible, because time is not on our side.”

An interview with the commission last week revealed that funding is key. Only two thirds of their 3 million kwacha (just over $21,000 CDN) budget for running the elections has been committed to by government. Another 1 million kwachas ($7,100 CDN) still has to be met by outside donors through the UNDP, not to mention activities including equipment gathering, a ward demarcation, cleaning up the voter’s roll as well as civic education.

It’s a lot to do in four months, but Chief Election Officer David Bandawe for the commission insists it’s enough time.

“We’re still getting ready,” he says, “but the developing partners will come in to fill in the gap.”

The commission has said they expect to release its calendar of events “within two to three weeks.”

And despite admirable movements such as the 50/50 campaign for equal representation of women – heralded for its success at the last federal election (increasing representation from 14 to 22 percent), my coworker’s skepticism remains. But he isn’t alone in his feeling. The mention of elections brings a laugh from the Malawians I’ve spoken to on the matter – “We’ll see,” they say.

The public’s appetite for politics that would make local elections here vibrant and exciting is not being fed. In Malawi, community rules, and lack of access to the political wheel from rural areas is exactly what makes grassroots politics so necessary.

Banda agrees. “Deliberating in the local assemblies on issues affecting development of their areas – these are the people who represent the grassroots, the real developmental needs.”

Let’s just hope those needs will have enough time to be met.
BY Phillipa Croome

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