Malawi 2019 Election – with Court annulment, a look back at USAID’s version of post election “Lessons Learned”

Update: the latest on the annulment of the election from Quartz Africa. And from The Guardian: “Malawi court annuls 2019 election results and calls for new vote.”

Here is what USAID has had to say as of June 27, 2019 on “Lessons From Malawi’s 2019 Elections”:

. . . .

In part due to considerable programmatic support – including USAID assistance – monitors observed commendable improvements in the MEC’s electoral preparation, voting process and results transmission system compared to previous elections.  Notably, as shown above, the MEC’s final result closely tracked with the USAID-supported non-partisan parallel vote tabulation, implemented by the Malawi Election Support Network (MESN) and National Democratic Institute (NDI).  

In addition, despite pre-electoral intimidation and violence against female candidates, 44 of Malawi’s 193 new parliamentarians are women, up from just 32 in 2014. 

Nevertheless, many voters have raised questions about the integrity of the process and Malawian opposition parties have petitioned to the courts to annul the results. While USAID/Malawi’s Democracy, Rights and Governance (DRG) team played a significant role in supporting the MEC to deliver a credible election, as well as civil society’s oversight of the process, more work remains to be done. USAID will continue to provide post election support, through NDI and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), to build confidence in Malawi’s political processes and improve citizen-state relations.

 

USAID Supported a Stronger Electoral Process…

 

In 2018, USAID joined DFID, European Union, Norway, Irish Aid, and UNDP by investing $1 million in the UNDP’s “Election Basket Fund,” which was established to pool international donor resources in support of the MEC’s election strategy, preparation, management, and tabulation. UNDP led the donor community in helping the MEC with critical institutional reforms and electoral preparations, registered 6.8 million voters through newly-issued biometric ID cards, engaged with political parties in preparation for the elections, supported women’s participation in the electoral process, strengthened the capacity of the Malawi Police Services to mitigate electoral violence, and supported election-day logistics and results transmission.

To complement the UNDP Basket Fund efforts, USAID and DFID jointly provided $4 million to the National Democratic Institute(link is external) (NDI) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems(link is external)(IFES) to improve civil society and political party oversight and engagement. NDI and its partner MESN coordinated with the MEC on civic and voter education initiatives and mobilized long term observers.  Working with with Democracy Works Foundation, MISA Malawi and broad group of local actors, NDI produced three televised presidential debates and trained political party monitors for election day oversight.

Given the highly competitive race for president, strengthening citizen confidence in the results management process was critical.  On election day, MESN and NDI deployed over 900 observers to monitor all day and conduct a parallel vote tabulation to try to give Malawians greater confidence that the tally of ballots was transparent and accurate. NDI’s partner Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi tracked and reported on media bias and established a fact-checker to combat fake news(link is external) on social media.

IFES helped the MEC to train judges on electoral dispute resolution, established an online election Early Warning/Early Response (EWER)(link is external) system to track and mitigate electoral violence, and  provided technical assistance on strategic communications in the lead-up to the elections, and throughout the voting and tabulation processes. 

In addition to these measures, USAID’s DRG team coordinated the US Government observer effort on election day. More than 80 observers from the US, UK, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Canada travelled together to visit polling and tabulation stations in 13 of Malawi’s 28 districts and submitted 240 observer reports.

But Challenges Remain …

. . . .

Through these and other efforts, the MEC and electoral stakeholders addressed many critical challenges from the 2014 election.  While observers noted a few logistical and organizational problems in some of the more than 5000 polling stations throughout Malawi, the consensus of the observer missions are reflected in the African Union’s Election Observer Mission preliminary statement, which concludes that:

 …the 2019 Tripartite Elections have provided Malawians with the opportunity to choose their leaders at various layers of government in accordance with the legal framework for elections in Malawi, and in accordance with the principles espoused in the various instruments of the AU. The elections took place in a peaceful environment and at the time of this statement, the mission had not notes any serious concerns with the process, either witnessed or observed.

Despite these efforts and a generally well conducted election, the public reaction post-election has been largely negative highlighting remaining gaps as well as a concerning level of mistrust between the public towards its democratic institutions and political actors.  Neither improved electoral transparency and preparations, election-day operations nor an independent PVT has assuaged the public’s concerns over election rigging.  Since the results were announced, Malawi has seen continued protests – some marred by violence – calling for the annulment of the results and resignation of MEC Commissioners.  Once again Malawi’s electoral outcome is in the hands of the courts.  

Implications for Future

Clearly, we need to do additional work to support both Malawi’s election management and to increase the citizenry’s trust in democratic institutions.  The trust issue is critical.  Afrobarometer’s recent study(link is external) underscores these issues in its June 2019 paper that shows that in 2017 only 57% of Malawians “agree” or “agree very strongly” that leaders should be chosen through regular, open, and honest elections. This means out of 34 African countries surveyed, Malawi’s trust in democratic systems is 3rd from the bottom – a concerning position for a democracy that has just completed its sixth election.

 

I hope this can be an occasion for a deeper and more open discussion about the learning opportunities than has happened from the problems over the years in Kenya.

Challenging Nigeria International Election Observation may present tests of character (2nd update on lobbying/funding) #NigeriaDecides

International Election Observation Mission members, including those from IRI/NDI, are arriving in Nigeria for the general election Saturday in a difficult environment.

Although invited by Nigeria’s government there has been at least one unwelcoming statement and no one could deny that this is a hard job simply from the stakes of the election, the instability in some areas, the poverty and underdeveloped infrastructure faced by large portions of the voting population and the simple relative newness of regular competitive elections.

International election observation, which focuses on civil and political rights, is part of international human rights monitoring and must be conducted on the basis of the highest standards for impartiality concerning national political competitors and must be free from any bilateral or multilateral considerations that could conflict with impartiality. It assesses election processes in accordance with international principles for genuine democratic elections and domestic law, while recognizing that it is the people of a country who ultimately determine credibility and legitimacy of an election process.

Quoted is the standard of independence and impartiality to which the USAID-funded NDI/IRI International Election Observation Mission is pledged under the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation (Oct. 2005).

The IRI/NDI Nigeria 2015 Observation Mission was funded directly by the State Department so shifting back to USAID funding this time is one of the positive things that I see as having potential to help preserve independence and maintain clarity between an Assistance Observation and a Diplomatic Observation to the benefit of the process.

See my post “President Trump’s Asst. Sec. of State for Africa candidly explains why election observation and technical assistance have to be ‘fire-walled’ from diplomacy to have integrity” for a current discussion and further links.

The joint IRI/NDI EOM model has positives and negatives in terms of actual and perceived independence. In Nigeria where democracy assistance is confronted by “resource curse” funded problems and lobbyists working “both sides of aisle” in Washington at a unusual level for an “African election”, along with prominent American campaign consultants usually involved, the joint model seems to me to have some important advantages over IRI or NDI doing a nonpartisan mission on its own, in-spite of the tradeoffs (alternatively you could go with the Carter Center as an “outside the beltway” if politically connected choice, or Democracy International as a truly private entity).

IRI in Africa from my now distant view has come quite far from some of the vulnerabilities that we faced in the 2007 Kenya Election Observation–experience is the best “capacity builder” and institutional funding and attention are now much more appropriate to the scope of the job. Some of my old Kenyan friends and colleagues who did such a great job running things on the ground in 2007 have stayed on and climbed the ladder. And we can expect this election in Nigeria to be better than their 2007 election, observed by many involved this year, as well.

Since Nigerian elections are always high profile and “on the map” in Washington there is no danger of overlooking the situation from that front. This Observation is long-planned and expected and well-funded; there have been an ongoing series of pre-election missions with reports on preparations. Likewise these observations have been going on with regularity throughout this century–and we’ve even been through the scenario of an incumbent seeking re-election during the Boko Haram war.

At the same time, you need no expertise to know that national elections are always challenging in Nigeria and that while cumulative progress has been made in some areas there are some particular concerns that have been reported on and discussed by this Observation Mission and others in the donor governments and media.

Thus, there may be hard calls ahead for the Observers, both on concerns they have already highlighted and from unexpected events as the voting, counting and disclosing play out.

American lobbyist and Ellen Johnston Sirleaf advisor Riva Levinson articulated part of the present challenge well in The Hill in Washington over the weekend: “At Risk: Credibility of U.S. democracy promotion in Africa“. Johnston Sirleaf is in Nigeria as lead observer for the ECOWAS intergovernmental Election Observation Mission and was co-lead for the most recent IRI-NDI Mission, “ZIEOM” in Zimbabwe.

UPDATE (Feb 12): Riva Levinson and her firm KRL are “registered foreign agents” in Washington for Retail Express Limited of Lagos, Nigeria. The Foreign Agent Registration Act filing from September 30, 2018 identifies this client as a “limited partnership which supports the goals of the Senate President of Nigeria, Dr. Aubakar Bukola Saraki, to engage international stakeholders in support of free and fair national elections in February, 2019, seek a level playing field for opposition parties, and convey the core tenants of the Senate President’s vision for the future of the country.” (She also currently lobbies for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Liberia and the Ministry of Finance of Ghana.)

Sakari lost the now-opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) nomination to Atiku Abubarka but stayed in PDP, having defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) of Pres. Buhari in July. The PDP itself hired Ballard Partners as its Washington lobbyists for a year at $1,080,000 two days before Retail Express hired KRL.

Recent former diplomat and Council on Foreign Relations Africa lead Amb. Michelle Gavin had a notably hard-hitting CFR blog post last week headlined: “The Truth About United States Complicity in DRC’s Fraudulent Election” although in the text she just covers the macro level issue of diplomatically blessing an election whose official result was contrary to all available evidence.

We in the U.S. got partially off the hook in the DRC where the incumbent Kabila did not invite U.S.-funded or other international observers beyond the African diplomatic groupings (although I learned from Levinson’s piece that we provided funding for the Catholic Church run ‘Parallel Vote Count’, a fact I totally missed in the news reporting. USAID’s website indicates we were also providing “technical assistance” to the election management body CENI itself (!) which again I missed somehow in the news reports. These facts may have informed Gavin’s view even if the journalists that I read did not take notice.)

Update II (Feb 18): As it turns out, the U.S. not-for-profit IFES continued USAID-funded work with CENI, along with its partner IRI in the Coalition for Electoral Process and Party Strengthening (CEPPS) according to a brief overview on IFES’s website, and continues to work with CENI toward local elections. CENI hired its own Washington lobbying firm in 2018, Avenue Strategies, founded by former DJ Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (he left and set up a separate firm before the CENI contract). In January 2019 after CENI named Felix Tshisekedi as president-elect, Avenue Strategies also signed on to represent Tshisekedi as president-elect and now president.

Presumably, then, under the CEPPS mechanism USAID funded the third partner, NDI, for the work with the Catholic Church Parallel Vote Count. I will contact USAID to confirm the arrangement and see if they are willing to release any contractual details without a formal Freedom of Information Act request.

The Carter Center stood firm in calling out Kabila’s 2011″re-election” as failing to meet international standards. The State Department followed along in declining to bless the election and offering technical assistance to address irregularities back then, unlike the current situation which Levinson and Gavin question (although the diplomatic impetus for remediation at the presidential level in 2011 went away quickly).

See Dr. Carl LeVan’s Homepage “Development for Security” blog for an overview of the Nigeria election contest. Likewise, Amb. John Campbell’s “Nigeria’s Election: What to Know” at CFR.

Here is my piece from The Elephant in the wake of Kenya’s judicially annulled 2017 presidential election: “Free, Fair and Credible? Turning the Spotlight on Election Observers“.

[UPDATE III: here is the Preliminary Statement issued by the IRI/NDI Observation on February 25, after the delayed vote of February 23.]

International Election Observation Mission IRI Kenya Kibera Lavington Nairobi 2007