New project will boost credibility of Malawi polls

By Richard Lee | March 27th, 2014

Just a few months before Malawians go to the polls and with tensions rising, an innovative initiative has been launched in Blantyre, which should help to ensure that the elections are as free, fair and peaceful as possible.

The Malawi Elections Information Centre (MEIC) was set up to ensure that citizens play a role in monitoring the conduct of the 2014 presidential, parliamentary and local elections – by alerting the relevant authorities via their mobile phones to any incidents of violence or electoral malpractice so that they can be swiftly resolved.

In addition, MEIC will deploy experienced monitors and trained observers at each polling station, who will share election-related information in real time with the central Election Situation Room team – and with the rest of Malawi through the MEIC website.

However, the Centre has much more to offer. It will also collate and disseminate vital information before, during and after the elections as well as allow voters to check whether they are registered via their cellphones.

“The MEIC provides a unique opportunity for citizens to participate in the electoral process by reporting on incidents as they occur using their cellphones,” said Justice Maxon Mbendera, chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). “From today, our collaboration with the MEIC means that Malawians will also be able to verify their voter registration status with a simple SMS.”

Managed by Malawi Election Support Network (MESN), the project will be run in collaboration a wide range of stakeholders, including the MEC, the security sector, political parties, faith-based organisations, media houses and civil society groups.

Based on successful ‘Election Situation Room’ projects in Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, the MEIC will use cutting-edge technology give citizens a real role in the election process – ensuring that they have the chance to do more than just tick a few boxes on election day.

“Citizens will also be able to share their experiences of the electoral process, such as the launching of party manifestos, political campaigns, security issues and level of election preparedness through the free SMS service supported by Malawi’s leading network operators,” said Steve Duwa, Chairperson of MESN.

Supported by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and Hivos, the MEIC should help to ease tensions, resolve problems and boost the credibility of the elections both within and outside Malawi. And it could set a precedent.

“If this project is well-implemented, it will set a good example in the SADC region and beyond,” said said Justice Mbendera.

It would certainly give voters across southern Africa more of a stake in their elections – helping to boost participation, enhance trust in the process and consolidate democracy.

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