Poche, a Member of the European Parliament from Czech Republic, on Thursday concluded his first visit to Malawi after meeting the Malawi Electoral Commission, the government, political parties, civil society organisations and other stakeholders.
He said: “We are encouraged that some of the recommendations raised during past elections have been addressed, such as an improved voter register, though some remain to be dealt with.”
His visit came after Malawi in March signed an administrative arrangement with the European Union (EU) to allow the EU to send its strong-powered mission to observe the elections, the sixth polls since Malawi adopted pluralism in 1994 after three decades of dictatorship.
The European Union was invited to deploy an election observation mission by the Malawi Electoral Commission and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
This is the fourth time the EU has deployed an election observation mission to Malawi. “Our presence for the 2019 polls demonstrates the European Union’s continuing commitment to the conduct of peaceful, inclusive, transparent and credible elections in Malawi,” said Mr Poche.
The EU mission, composed of eight analysts who arrived in Blantyre on 4 April 2019, twenty-eight long-term observers and 32 short-term observers, will be joined by diplomats of EU member states and partner countries.
On May 21, the EU will have more than 80 observers across the country, covering both urban and rural areas.
Poche added: ”We hope for a peaceful campaign where contestants can compete on a level playing field. It is critical that the planning for elections is turned into an operational reality and all of the preparations, including identifying sufficient transportation, are put in place in a timely manner. We also hope that the results process will be transparent and timely, to retain the confidence of all stakeholders.”
The EU observer mission conducts a comprehensive analysis of the whole electoral process. This includes assessing the legal framework, the performance of the election administration, voter registration, campaign activities, participation of women, media coverage, voting, counting and transmission of results, and any election disputes after the polls.
The administrative arrangement accord was inked between the Chairperson of Electoral Services Committee, Commissioner Jean Mathanga, Principal Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Ben Botolo and the EU Ambassador to Malawi, Ms Sandra Paesen.
"The observer missions assure the credibility of the electoral process. The missions also make valuable recommendations for the electoral management body to improve in the next elections," Mathanga said at a ceremony in Lilongwe.
Mathanga, who signed on behalf of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) Chairperson Jane Ansah, said so far the commission has interacted with three teams from the European Union that have been coming on a pre-assessment mission.
"The importance of observer missions needs no emphasis," she said, adding that during the last elections in May 2014, there were several organisations and institutions that came to observe the elections and issued their reports.
"But allow me to commend the European Union for always following up and also offering support on implementation of the recommendations. The European Union has been a true partner to MEC and also a champion of the cycle approach to elections management," Mathanga said.
President Peter Mutharika has said Capital Hill will bankroll the elections to the tune of K40 billion without donor support and it was the first time in the history of democratic elections that the government was financing its own elections.
The European observer missions strives to strengthen confidence in elections and provides an informed and factual assessment of the election process, Paesen said.
"A creditable and transparent electoral process is key to maintain the good reputation of the country as a peaceful and stable democracy," Paesen said, appealing to all parties involved and political leaders to commit to a non-violent campaign where hate speech should have no place.
President Arthur Peter Mutharika, banking to woo votes through his signature development initiatives, is seeking re-election and has been tipped to win by two independent polls.
He is being challenged by his vice president Saulos Chilima who last year broke from the ranks of Mutharika's DPP to form his own UTM, Lazarus Chakwera of main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), cabinet minister Atupele of UDF, and several independent candidates including medical professor John Chisi of Umodzi Party.