Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Waiting for Official Results... be announced

Still waiting on the announcement of the official results of the Presidential Election in Malawi, there is increasing speculation of how each of the 4 front runners have done. Yesterday's elections were subject to logistical problems, delayed voting and in some areas there were pockets of election related violence.

As the Malawi Nation (newspaper) continues to publish the unofficial results of the presidential election, it would appear that the DPP and Peter Mutharika could be the front runner. Unofficial results and exit polls can be problematic though - in the most part these appear to be taken from urban polling stations, most of Malawi is considered to be rural.

Whilst the press continues to speculate about the future Presidency of Malawi, I wonder what these figures really suggest. It's probably reasonably safe to suggest that the allegations of rigging by the PP haven't come to anything - surely if the allegations were true  the PP would be showing leads even in the unofficial results.

The news is dubbing the elections as "chaotic" and highlighting the instances of violence in some areas across Malawi. Whilst logistical problems have caused some problems, including the issue of a lack of voting materials to some polling stations, the majority seem to have been problem free. The scenes of violence from Blantyre were in Ndirande, an area with a reputation for trouble, as one commentator @Thembinkosi said on twitter
 "the scenes from Ndirande are not dissimilar from the scenes when a big soccer match is on!"
So whilst we wait on the official results, it's good to see that voting in areas such as Ndirande and others which suffered delays and disruption yesterday are continuing today without problems. The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) have undoubtedly had challenges to overcome and problems to fix along the way.

According to the MEIC twitter feed the MEC will start to release 
"progressive preliminary results at 30% and 70% before the final announcement" @MEIC_2014
As we are asked to be patient and wait for the official results - I leave you with the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt  
"Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education"

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

It's election day in Malawi...

As Malawi goes to the polls today...

I hope that the election process is peaceful and democratic. 

There have been a few reports of demonstrations this morning, although in the most part I've heard that as Malawians go to the polls that the day is generally peaceful and calm. As the candidates for the presidency cast their votes, there remains four front runners for the position - Joyce Banda (PP), Lazarus Chakwera (MCP), Atupele Muluzi (UDF) and Peter Mutharika (DPP). With each of the four front runners having strongholds across Malawi, it won't be surprising if the wards are dominated by one party or another.

As I followed the news over the last week or so, I've read reports of alleged rigging, of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) being unprepared and of supposed pre-marked ballot papers being destroyed.  I wonder if these are stories of scaremongering, if they are tactics employed by the opposition parties to discredit the PP and if there is any truth in the allegations? 

The elections present a variety of challenges for the MEC - no election is without it's challenges. I was at the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston, for the count of the votes of the 2011 Scottish Parliament general election.  I remember the anticipation during the count and as the first seats were announced. Watching the Malawi election feels a little bit like that. The anticipation for the election process to be over and the result to be announced.

But what about after the results...

With all the allegations of  PP rigging the election, I wonder what will happen after the elections. If Banda wins, will the election be deemed as rigged by the PP?  Will there be doubts of a free and fair election? From the outsiders perspective, I feel there is increasing suspicion of corruption surrounding the politicians, the cashgate scandal didn't help as neither did the actions of Bingu's Government before he died.

With each of the presidential candidates signing the The PAC (Public Affairs Committee) Peace Declaration Take a Stand against Violence in Malawi During and After Elections, does this suggest that violence around the elections was expected?  As I hear some reports of violence, the areas don't really surprise me - Ndirande in Blantyre, has a reputation for being in the "thick-of-it" whenever there is any sign of trouble.

I just hope that the result of the election is respected and is upheld, regardless of who wins. I hope that Malawians have been able to make the choice which is best for Malawi. As it doesn't matter who is President as long as they have the best intentions for Malawi's future. 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Academia, PhD's and Mental Health...

This is Mental Health Awareness Week and 2014 is all about raising awareness of anxiety.

Over the last few months there have been a few articles published on mental health issues in academia amongst PhD students and researchers alike. I'm no expert on mental health, however I do feel  there needs to be more attention paid to mental health issues amongst students and across academia.

You only have to Google mental health and academia, to find a plethora of blog posts/ news articles and publications on the issue.  I think Jessica's blog post is particularly interesting on the issue of what you should and shouldn't say to someone with mental health issues.The notation of what not to say, is one thing - but identifying the issue is another. The NHS identifies Mental illness as;
a diagnosable condition that significantly interferes with an individual's cognitive, emotional or social abilities such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia. ( 
Are you Anxiety Aware Mental Health Awareness Week 2014 12-18 MayMental illness can affect people in various ways and last different lengths of time, sometimes re-occurring. Depression and anxiety are amongst the most commonly discussed mental illnesses. During this Mental Health Awareness week,. the Mental Health foundation asks the question "are you anxiety aware?"   

There are various organisations which provide support and advice on mental health. The University of Edinburgh has a Student Counselling Service, as well as the Mental Health Mentor Service for students with long term mental ill-health.  

More information about Anxiety is available  at on the Mental Health Foundation website.

Watching Malawi's Elections from Afar

This blog post also appears on 

In the run-up to the elections on 20th May, I am watching with anticipation. There are twelve candidates running in the presidential elections with four front runners; Joyce Banda (Peoples Party), Lazarus Chakwera (Malawi Congress Party), Atupele Muluzi (United Democratic Front), Peter Mutharika (Democratic Progressive Party).

Joyce Banda is the current President, she assumed power after Bingu Wa Mutharika died whilst in office. Her move into the role of President was contentious as the time and since assuming the role, she has devalued the kwacha by nearly 50% and has re-secured support from donor countries and the IMF which had been withdrawn under the previous regime. Forex is no longer so difficult to get, tobacco prices have risen and there are no longer severe fuel shortages like there were in 2011. However, Banda was never actually elected, as Vice President it was the constitution that ensured she became President when her predecessor died.

Watching the election campaign from a distance, the colours of the PP (orange) and DPP (blue), dominate the news headlines and it feels a little like this is a Banda v's Mutharika race. Peter Mutharika is the brother of former president Bingu Wa Mutharika and is now the DPP candidate for the 2014 elections. He was allegedly involved in the plans to bypass the constitution after his brother’s death, to prevent the succession of Joyce Banda to the presidency. The DPP dominate in the southern region of Malawi, however they have the memory of Bingu's final years in government overshadowing their campaign.

The Afro-barometer report on the upcoming Malawi elections surveyed adults of voting age and "based on the stated voting intentions of adult Malawians some six to eight weeks before the May 20, 2014 elections, their report stated the outcome of the elections is too close to call"(1). The below pie chart, taken from the Afro-barometer survey, illustrates how those asked would vote.

Whilst it is maybe too close to call, all the candidates for the Presidential elections have signed a Peace Declaration(2). The PAC (Public Affairs Committee) Peace Declaration titled: Take a Stand against Violence in Malawi During and After Elections; hopes to engage the election candidates in ensuring a peaceful and democratic election and a process afterwards which is for the good of Malawi.

As I watch the political campaigns develop in the lead-up to the May 20 elections, I hope that they are free of violence. Of the four front runners in the election, the People 's Party continue to have a stronghold in the north, the MCP in the central region and the DPP, followed by the UDF in the southern region, Whilst the Afro-barometer poll suggests that the DPP have a slight lead, I do wonder if (or how much) the legacy of the DPP's previous term in power and the memories of Bingu's Government will influence their current chances. Is electing the DPP a chance Malawi can afford to take?

Reading the news, Banda has made some controversial decision since her time as President, although she has managed to entice the international donors back to Malawi. Having made some unpopular decisions and viewed as not following through on all their promises, the PP has encountered some problems during their time in Government. The question is have they done enough to win an election?

As Election Day approaches, it looks like this 12 horse race has 4 (or maybe 2) front runners- now we have to wait and see who crosses the line first.