In officially opening the meeting, Malawian lawmaker Honourable Ishmael Ndaila Onani, Chairperson of the RPMLOC, reiterated that SADC PF remained a platform for parliamentary dialogue on issues of mutual interest, such as those examined in the meeting.
Noting that 11 SADC countries were scheduled to hold national elections this year and next year, he said it was appropriate that the meeting was focusing on how to achieve inclusive governance, particularly the participation and representation of women, youth, and minority groups.
The SADC PF has adopted model laws addressing the issues covered in the meeting, namely, the SADC Model Law on Elections and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
The meeting thus provided a platform for the Committee to discuss the domestication of the SADC Model Law on Elections, the linkages between representative democracy and peace and security of nations, and the need to instill citizens' belief in their elected representatives in Parliaments.
It was set, also, to consider the issue of political financing and the disparaging effects of overspending in elections or corruptive practices such as candidates attempting to "buy" votes.
Hon. Onani urged member countries to actively participate in ensuring that election policies, legislation, and initiatives take into account the provisions of Section 27 and 39 of the Model Law on Elections, which provide for Electoral Systems and Political Financing Regulation, with a view to monitoring the domestication and implementation of this Model Law.
He further stressed that Parliaments should exercise their oversight role on the domestication of the SADC Model on Elections and in ensuring that the Government is accountable to its international and regional commitments to promote the integrity, credibility, transparency, freeness, and fairness of elections in the SADC region.
Hon. Onani encouraged the RPMLOC to actively participate and engage with presenters on the issues under discussion, as the Committee sought to make recommendations in the form of a Resolution to the 53rd Plenary Assembly of the Forum scheduled for later this year in the United Republic of Tanzania.
The RPMLOC invited Professor Khabele Matlosa, a Visiting Professor at the Centre for African Diplomacy and Leadership at the University of Johannesburg, to share his views on Electoral System Design in the SADC Region with Special Focus on Inclusiveness.
Matlosa said as 11 presidential and parliamentary elections were scheduled to take place in the SADC region over the next two years, the importance of inclusive electoral system design could not be underestimated.
He argued that although elections are a fundamental component of democratic governance, they are not synonymous with democracy. Instead, democracy should incorporate five core principles/values: freedom, representation, accountability, inclusiveness, and constitutional order.
He contended that in this context, inclusiveness is crucial in ensuring that vulnerable and marginalized groups such as women, youth, and persons with disabilities can participate and have a voice in national affairs.
The 2018 SADC Model Law on Elections requires the adoption of positive measures, including quotas for disadvantaged groups, as part of electoral systems to ensure their enforcement.
Matlosa noted that many SADC countries inherited electoral systems from colonial rule without considering the unique socio-cultural and political-economic contexts of their countries.
He said since gaining independence in the 1960s, very few countries in the region had reformed their systems. While there are various electoral systems globally, three main families are prevalent in the SADC: plurality/majority systems, proportional representation systems, and mixed systems.
To promote inclusive electoral systems, Matlosa said the SADC region should consider international, continental, and regional norms and standards, such as the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
He argued that electoral system reform could lead to a representative parliament and inclusive government, facilitate transparent and efficient government, hold MPs and governments accountable and responsive, and encourage cross-cutting political parties and legislative opposition and oversight.
Furthermore, Matlosa stressed that electoral systems must promote the inclusion of marginalized and vulnerable groups, especially women and youth, who make up over 50% and 60% of populations, respectively.
He noted that proportional systems tend to be more conducive to women's political inclusion, even plurality/majority and mixed systems can promote gender equality if they are combined with voluntary and legislated gender quotas.
The Committee agreed that to promote meaningful inclusion, participation, and representation of persons with disabilities, electoral systems must also consider the accessibility of polling stations and the provision of necessary support.
Matlosa underscored that inclusive electoral system design is crucial for the effective functioning of democratic governance in the SADC region. Therefore, it is vital that the SADC countries undertake electoral system reforms that reflect their unique socio-cultural and political-economic contexts and ensure the inclusion of vulnerable and marginalized groups.
The Vice Chairperson of the RPMLOC, Honorable Shally Josepha Raymond from the United Republic of Tanzania, encouraged parliamentarians in SADC to strengthen the electoral legal framework in their respective jurisdictions.
She commended Matlosa for his “well-researched and informative presentation”, which highlighted the challenges facing the integrity and credibility of elections in the region.
She noted that Matlosa had provided possible solutions to these challenges and shed light on critical areas of the Model Law on which legislators should focus.
Hon. Raymond urged parliamentarians to be more robust in undertaking their oversight role on national elections in the SADC region, as well as in the protection of political rights of women, youth, and marginalized groups.
She called on them to actively participate in domestication initiatives in their respective countries and to advocate and support amendments to key legislation to promote inclusive governance.
The Vice Chairperson expressed confidence that parliamentarians would utilize the information acquired to diligently serve the SADC citizenry by prioritizing the issues covered in the thematic areas in national policies and laws.
Hon. Raymond thanked all members for their active participation, valuable interventions, and contributions throughout the deliberations. She also thanked the Secretary General of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, Ms. Boemo Sekgoma and her staff, as well as all partners who continue to support the Committee's work.
The SADC Model Laws are key instruments in transforming the SADC community, and Hon. Raymond implored parliamentarians to reinforce the domestic legal framework to promote inclusive governance.