Representatives of opposition parties yesterday accused the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) of “systematically” plotting to rig the 2019 Tripartite Elections through a problem-ridden national identity cards registration process.
Feelings of mistrust and suspicion could be read on the faces of delegates and in the tone of contributions during a National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting in Lilongwe where MEC set out to update stakeholders on preparations for the next elections.
Tempers flared after some delegates, notably Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and People’s Party (PP) members of Parliament (MPs) and representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) deviated from the meeting’s agenda to disapprove MEC’s plans to use the national ID database as a prerequisite for one to register as a voter for the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo-Banda (MCP) bluntly accused MEC of plotting to use the National Registration and Identification System (NRIS) exercise to rig the elections in favour of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
“Where were you when the National Registration Bureau [NRB] was launching the programme? We are very sure you have plans to rig elections.
“If this is not the case, then you should find your own means of registering voters. Don’t interfere with the national ID registration exercise. This time, we won’t allow you [MEC] to rig these elections and get away with it,” he warned, drawing a round of applause from some of his fellow legislators, representatives of other political parties and CSOs.
The legislator wondered why MEC was not taking part in the national ID sensitisation and awareness when the electoral body has an interest to use the cards for registering voters.
Chimwendo-Banda demanded an end to MEC “interference” with NRB activities, emphasising that the project is vital that one need not sacrifice it on the altar of politics.
But MEC chairperson Jane Ansah, a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, did not take the MPs accusations lying down as she accused parliamentarians of not doing enough to sensitise their constituents on the exercise.
At one point, the usually calm and collected Ansah visibly lost her cool that she had to rise from her seat to address the MPs.
She said: “You too have a duty as MPs to sensitise your constituents on the importance of the national IDs.”
This notwithstanding, Ansah assured that the commission does not harbour plans to rig elections.
DPP publicity secretary Francis Kasaila, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, did not pick his phone despite several attempts yesterday.
The issue about MEC planning to use the national IDs registration being used in the voter registration has recently been contentious, including in the National Assembly.
The legislators sought an explanation from Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Grace Chiumia who admitted challenges being experienced in the exercise such as breaking down of equipment.
In Parliament last week, Lilongwe North MP Patricia Mkanda (MCP) argued that by starting the first phase of the registration in the Central Region, a proven stronghold of the opposition MCP, the challenges would disenfranchise most eligible voters who are failing to register due to logistical hiccups. n