Liaison committee fostering peace ahead of elections in Malawi
Political violence has deep roots in Africa and it continues to pose a serious threat to the continent’s development. Contrary to war-tone countries with years of intermittent civil wars, relatively calmer countries are mostly characterised by escalated political clashes during pre and post-election periods.
- MPLCs are a peace building mechanism in which political party leaders at district level work together with various stakeholders to foster peaceful co-existence among members of different political parties.
- MPLCs are made up of about twenty members including the District Commissioner (DC) (who chairs the committee), political party governors, traditional authorities, and MEC representatives, among others.
- MPLCs were first implemented in Local Government Elections in 2000, and drew their jurisdiction from the Malawi Electoral Commission (section 176).
- They borrowe their mandate from Section 13(l) of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi.
In Malawi’s southern district of Thyolo, in which three of the country’s four major political parties dominate, political violence has been rife over the years. In January 2012, while on a whistle stop tour, one aspiring presidential candidate’s convoy was attacked in the district by overzealous youth members of another party. This has been followed by various minor clashes among grassroots members of the parties as the country’s Tripartite General Elections scheduled for May 2014 draw closer.
According to Ketson Mtima, District Party Chairman for the Malawi Congress Party, Thyolo has been having political tension of its own over the past few months.
“Where I come from, we have had several issues including tearing down each other’s party flags when they are erected in public places and lack of tolerance especially when parties are holding rallies. Usually, members of the opposing party come and disturb the rally and this had always brought violence in the area,” said Mtima.
To deal with these violence and ensure free and fair elections in 2014, the Centre for Multiparty Democracy – Malawi (CMD-M) has revived district based Multi-Party Liaison Committees (MPLCs) through the Strengthening Political Parties Project being with technical and financial support from UNDP.
Since July 2013, CMD-M has resuscitated MPLCs in twelve districts by providing them with proper training in conflict resolution and peace building as well as financial support for regular meetings and arbitration activities in the communities. The committee has managed to go around the district and ensure that people with different political inclinations co-exist peacefully particularly now that the next general elections are just a few months away.
The activities of the MPLC in Thyolo has been notably successful. Party clashes have drastically reduced since the district’s MPLC became active as reported by the district governors themselves.
According to Mtima, when the last incident happened in his area, the committee tabled the matter in one of their meetings in a bid to sort things out.
“As a committee, led by the DC, we convened a meeting and decided to go and meet village headmen and party leaders at constituency level for the areas involved. We then discussed the issues so that in the end we had a common agenda to ensure peace in our communities.
“All this was happening because most of us totally misunderstood multiparty politics. Now people in the communities know that multiparty is not about fighting but living together despite your differences,” said Mtima.
Mtima’s comments on the successes of the Thyolo MPLC were echoed by his fellow District Governors, one of whom is Mr. Scotch, governor for the ruling People’s Party.
“The Union of us governors is fostering unity among all the party followers in our communities since people are saying: ‘if our leaders are working together, then why should we fight?’’
District Governor for the Alliance for Democracy (Aford), noted that what they are advocating as an MPLC is helping the villagers to better understand the concept of multiparty politics within their local setting; which is why there is increased respect for each other’s political stance.
The Strengthening Political Parties project under which the MPLCs are being supported, is designed to ensure that political parties have clear ideologies and functioning internal democracy. The support for MPLCs is based on Outcome 4 of the project which aims at strengthening platforms for inter-party dialogue to promote transparency and accountability as well as enhance credibility and legitimacy of political parties at all levels. The three-year project started in January 2013 and is expected to end in December 2016.