News / Africa

Uganda Seeks Electoral Lessons from Malawi

Lameck Masina

A delegation from the Uganda Electoral Commission has completed a weeklong visit to Malawi to study voter education processes.  Some analysts question whether Uganda can learn anything from Malawi’s recent flawed elections.

Uganda has less than two years to prepare for national elections and this time, election officials say they want to do a better job.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Blantyre, the director of operations at the Uganda Electoral Commission, Leonard Mulekwa, explained why his three-person delegation came to Malawi.

“We did our last election in 2011 and we did post-election review.  And people and political parties told us we did not do enough on voter education.  So, we were following the Malawi election and we were seeing there was big turnout of people at rallies, big turnout of people at registration centers.  So we thought maybe there is something Malawi is doing to mobilize these people which we may not be doing,” he stated.

Malawian officials brought their Ugandan counterparts to civil society groups which were instrumental in getting information to the electorate.

Mulekwa said they can learn a lot from groups like Malawi's National Initiative for Civic Education, which distributed information about voting in public places.

“For example, if you look at things like procession walks; going to health units where mothers are at antenatal, immunization; going to market places; even writing letters to parents and all categories of leaders.  These were very new initiatives to us and we think we have picked a lot of lessons from here which when we go back we will urge the commission to adopt,” Mulekwa said.

However, some analysts are raising eyebrows at the idea any country could learn from Malawi after the elections in May were marred by widespread irregularities.

Jessie Kabwila, spokesperson for the opposition Malawi Congress Party, said she thinks the Ugandan delegation was not given the true picture of how Malawi conducted its voter registration.

“For example, civic and voter education in Malawi was problematic from the ethnic perspective.  There was regionalism in the way MEC did it.  For example, when they came to central region, it was all done at one time, yet in other places, specifically in the south, voter education, [it] was done first and voting later but in central region there was a weird things happening, some of the places did not get voter registration,” she stated.

The Malawi Electoral Commission said there weren't any official complaints at any stage of the electoral process.  

Ernest Thindwa is a political science lecturer at the Chancellor College of the University of Malawi.  He said Uganda should look at not only what Malawi did well to prepare for elections but what it didn’t do well.  Shortages of ballot papers and ink sparked anger among voters in some polling centers in Blantyre.  

“One of the challenges Malawi has was not having necessary materials in polling centers at the right time.  So that is the area which Uganda needs to learn that there can be some areas, where if not properly executed, can lead to problems.  So overall there are both positive and negative things Uganda can learn and be attentive to areas where Malawi might have failed,” said Thindwa.

Opposition groups in Uganda have long complained of irregularities in the country's elections.  Longtime President Yoweri Museveni has won the last three elections amid allegations of bribery, intimidation and violence.

Attempts by the opposition to challenge the elections in court have been futile.

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