RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHLG #0480/01 2261317
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 131317Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY LILONGWE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5447
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
1. (U) This is an action request. Please see paragraphs 8 and 9.
2. (SBU) Summary: After a period of uncertainty due to budget disputes and slow-moving donor contributions, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is now on track to hold successful elections in May
2009. The U.S. Mission has played a key role in engaging the MEC on the issue of observation, encouraging early letters of invitations to diplomatic missions, coordinating observer accreditation and training, and observing the initial training of election registration staff. Voter registration will run from August 18 through December with the only international observers coming from diplomatic missions in Malawi. No organizations have yet committed to observe the campaign and polling periods in 2009, but international observers will be critical to monitor the sure-to-be contentious election next May.
MEC Back On Track
3. (SBU) After several months of uncertainty over the MEC's budget, money from both the government of Malawi (GOM) and foreign aid donors has begun to flow. The MEC has successfully procured its $8.6 million USD computerized voter registration system. Staff training is underway in preparation for an August 18 start to the six-phase registration exercise that will canvas the country until December.
4. (U) Malawi's electoral budget will be $35.7 million USD with donor contributions totaling 48% of the budget. A July 2 project support agreement between the GOM and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on behalf of election trust fund (ETF) donors (U.S., U.K., Ireland, Norway, European Union, Germany, and the U.N.) paved the way for many of the donors to finalize funding plans and begin disbursing funds. (Comment: The USG has already contributed $475,000 USD to the election trust fund for voter education in FY 2008 and plans to contribute a similar amount in FY 2009.) Additionally, the GOM disbursed its entire $4.2 million USD 2007/8 contribution and has front-loaded the recently passed four-month interim budget so election costs can be funded with minimal disruption from the ongoing impasse in the National Assembly.
U.S. Mission Pushing MEC on Observers
5. (SBU) The U.S. Mission has taken the lead on engaging the MEC on the issue of election process observation. The MEC stated early on that it would invite diplomatic missions and international observers, but the invitations remained unsent in mid-June. After numerous meetings, including one between the Ambassador and the Chairperson of the MEC, on June 27, the MEC formally invited all diplomatic missions to observe all facets of the election process. The MEC has indicated that it will invite international organizations that express an interest in observing as well, however only the European Union has so far received an invitation.
6. (SBU) Gaining an invitation to observe the process is only half the battle. The MEC, understandably preoccupied with securing its funding streams and finalizing procurement agreements, announced all observers would need to be accredited yet did not provide a plan to do the accreditation. Emboff coordinated a meeting of all ETF donors plus representatives of Canada and South Africa to formulate a plan for accreditation and briefing on the electoral process. Emboff and the MEC ultimately agreed to accreditation and badging of observers in Lilongwe, followed by a briefing for a small group from each mission who would act as coordinators for their respective organizations. The briefing is scheduled to take place on August 15, just in time to begin observation of the registration process. Since the MEC asked that diplomatic missions accredit people now, even to only observe the May polling, the U.S. Mission plans to accredit over 60 staff and has developed a plan with the MEC to accredit new arrivals to post later in the process.
7. (SBU) Emboffs also attended one of the MEC staff training held on August 8 in Lilongwe. Outside of the briefing for diplomatic observers, the MEC was not offering any other training except for its staff. Political parties and domestic observers were invited to observe staff training, but it is unclear how many did so. At the training, emboffs observed training of over 150 staff on the registration process including how to set up and use the new photo and biometric equipment. Despite the large group, the trainers were well-versed and the lecture was followed by hands-on training with the equipment.
Comment: Election Prep Has Domestic Attention, Yet to Reach International Conscienceness.
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8. (SBU) Comment: With over 4000 polling and registration centers, most far from the capital, diplomatic mission observers will only be able to provide a spot check on the process. Emboffs have reached out to the National Initiative on Civic Education (NICE), an EU-funded GOM organization who will monitor all centers and NICE has agreed to provide interim reports to the diplomatic missions. As a government organization though, NICE's reports may not be independent and it remains to be seen how quickly NICE will be able to notify the MEC of problems. In what is sure to be a contentious election, independent international observers will be needed to lend credibility to the elections.
9. (SBU) While progress toward the elections is being made, the MEC continues to be understaffed and have significant capacity issues. Some of these will be helped by the hiring of new staff over the next few months and technical assistance funded through the ETF, but Malawi's fourth national election finds the country still with a paucity of experience. We believe that international election observers are still a pressing need to provide credibility to the electoral process in Malawi. We request that the Department continue to consider all available options, whether publicly or privately financed, to field a team of qualified observers for Malawi's 2009 elections to help reduce the risks of fraud and violence. As evidenced through our own interactions with the MEC, the earlier prospective observers can be identified, the easier it will be for the Embassy to continue its work with the MEC to secure invitations and accreditation.