A delegation from Uganda’s Inter Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) undertook an exchange visit to Malawi from 25 to 30 July 2010. The visit was hosted by IPOD’s sister organisation, CMD-Malawi. While Malawi may seem an unlikely choice for an exchange visit, it has successfully overcome some of the challenges that Uganda now faces in the run-up to its general elections in February/March 2011; and the Ugandans were there to learn how this was done.
In the run-up to Malawi’s 2009 general elections, the bona fides of its Electoral Commission (MEC) were widely questioned. Given the political climate at the time, there were predictions by some of a widespread rejection of the election results and consequently post election conflict and even violence.
The fact that this did not materialise was in large part because of the partnership that NIMD’s partner CMD-Malawi formed with other actors to ensure that the management of the elections was undertaken by a societal partnership (thus ensuring the transparency of the process).
The Exchange Visit
The legitimacy of Uganda’s Electoral Commission had also been rejected by opposition parties in running battles with the police on the streets of Kampala, and there were fears that the conflict would increase and possibly erupt in post election violence. A highlight of the first day of the visit for the representatives of IPOD therefore was meeting their counterparts from the board of CMD-Malawi, and discovering how many socio-economic and political challenges they shared.
An evening visit to the newly-built Parliament was appreciated by IPOD delegates since Uganda is also scheduled to build a new Parliamentary chamber soon. Delegates also held meetings with civil society actors and the media, who formed part of the social partnership which together managed the successful elections in Malawi in 2009.
The parallel tally system used by civil society to verify election results as well as the manifesto campaigns, anti-violence campaigns and election debates in the media were all keenly noted.
The visiting Ugandans also took a trip to Mangochi to meet with the Mangochi Multi-Party Liaison Committee (MPLC). Mangochi has had violent elections in the past; but the MPLC achieved much in helping to drastically reduce incidents of violence in the last general elections. Once again, delegates discovered that the key to this success was the transparency engendered by an inclusive societal partnership.
While the District Commissioner was the chair of the MPLC in his capacity as the Elections’ Returning Officer, the committee also included the chairperson of each political party in the district, and representatives from the local security agencies, civil society, media, youth, traditional authorities, the town council and faith-based organisations.
The MPLC’s core function was to ensure that election violence was eradicated. It holds hearings into alleged violations of election regulations and laws, including the Code of Conduct; publicises its rulings; investigates violations; and clears party rallies.
Some Key Lessons Learned
The visit held many lessons for IPOD members. The delegation came away with an overall impression that dialogue between rival political parties is an invaluable tool for any developing nation. Indeed, it was clear that CMD-Malawi had provided the space for political parties to themselves decide what was in their best interests as competitors in the elections.
For example, it allowed parties to formulate a joint position that was mutually beneficial before taking this to the MEC for negotiation. Because this was a united decision supported by all parties, it was easier for the MEC to accept this position and thus make an appropriate modification. Moreover, the informal Code of Conduct/Pledge that CMD-Malawi devised for public signature and commitment by all political parties was something that the IPOD delegation undertook to pursue once back in Uganda.
The Ugandan delegates, therefore, resolved to continue their own dialogue in IPOD and intensify this as a means of resolving the challenges facing Uganda in the run up to the 2011 elections. IPOD, will as a result, be calling a meeting of its highest body, the Summit of Presidents (comprised of the Presidents of all the member political parties), to attempt to resolve these important challenges.
Also, delegates learned that the management of a successful election is not just the preserve of an electoral management body; rather, it is a societal obligation and the more the stakeholders are involved, the more transparent it becomes and consequently the more easily the result is accepted.
In particular, the working relationship established between the political parties and MEC, via CMD-Malawi, was recognised as a key factor in the transparency of the election and acceptance of the outcome.
IPOD was so inspired by these lessons that it determined to hold an urgent exploratory meeting with the EC and to subsequently organise a consultative stakeholder workshop in which political parties, CSOs, faith-based organisations, and the media will jointly dialogue on a way forward on the composition of the EC and how it can work jointly with the various stakeholders to ensure more transparent and credible elections in 2011.
The delegation felt that the lessons learned were so important that immediately upon arrival in Uganda, it met to fashion a Press Communiqué which was released to the media at a press conference. This conference was widely covered in the Ugandan media, in newspapers and on radio and television.
Apart from the resolutions mentioned above, IPOD also plans to use the electronic manifestos that CMD-Malawi commissioned as a guide for its own electronic manifestos. It is hoped also that some of the anti-violence strategies, including media campaigns and structures geared towards the prevention of elections violence, can be put to use.
Image courtesy of ComSec (Flickr).