Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) has established that malfunctioning equipment and absence of National Registration Bureau (NRB) officers in some centres contributed to low turn out during phase one of voter registration exercise.
In its report titled Observation Report on Phase One of Voter Registration released yesterday, Mesn found that 34 percent of registration centres in Kasungu, Dedza and Salima—the three districts under the first phase—had malfunctioning registration equipment while nine percent of registration centres had no NRB officers to assist those without national identity cards to register.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Mesn chairperson Steve Duwa said the network’s roving monitors were deployed in most registration centres to assess the situation on the ground amid preliminary reports that the registration process, which started on June 29 to July 9, was marred by technical challenges and low turnout of registrants.
He said: “Yes, it is correct that registration equipment malfunctioned in some of the centres because of bad weather. We found that MEC [Malawi Electoral Commission] provided generator sets as a solution, but still more there was no fuel supplied in most centres.”
Duwa argued that some of the challenges resulted from MEC’s unpreparedness, an observation that has previously been denied by the commission which has said it did its best to ensure that all eligible voters registered during the first phase.
“To us, we noted that this is an issue of planning not being done properly. MEC needs to provide all the necessary resources at every centre. We are aware that the second phase is facing the same problems which were traced in the first phase,” he said.
On availability of NRB officers, Duwa said the centres that had no officers will have a negative bearing on the elections because many people who do not have national identity cards have been automatically disenfranchised from voting next year.
He further argued that MEC and its stakeholders, including political parties, erred to decide that national IDs, which a greater number of people do not have, are the only mode of identification for the exercise.
Duwa said Mesn will present its findings during an elections stakeholders meeting scheduled to take place today to see how best the challenges can be ironed out as phase two of registration continues in Ntchisi, Nkhotakota, Mchinji and Dowa.
When asked to comment on the unavailability of officers in some of the centres, NRB spokesperson Norman Fulatira dismissed the report, saying the bureau deployed registration officers to all centres where registration took place.
He said: “It is very strange to say that there were no registration officers in some of the centres. We deployed our officers in all the centres where MEC is conducting the registration exercise. However, I will find out if indeed we did not deploy officers in some centres.”
In an interview yesterday, University of Livingstonia political scientist George Phiri said it is unfortunate that the report has exposed some critical challenges when MEC maintained that it did the best to ensure that all people register.
He warned that a losing party in the 2019 elections will likely fault MEC for the loss considering that elections are a game of numbers.
Mzuzu-based political commentator Emily Mkamanga said the development will contribute to voter apathy as voters have previously shunned elections when such problems are not rectified.
But Catholic University political scientist Nandini Patel said in a written response that the electoral law is clear on the eligibility of voters, arguing that no eligible voter should be denied the chance to vote next year whether he or she has the national identity card or not.
She said: “The law is clear on eligibility to register. No eligible voter, according to the relevant section, can be denied the right to vote if he or she does not possess the national registration card.”
Last week, MEC said it would have to consult its stakeholders, who are expected to meet today for a roundtable discussion, on the possibility of extending the registration period.
Malawi Congress Party leader Lazarus Chakwera last week met MEC officials following challenges observed in phase one of the registration exercise such as low turnout of registrants and malfunctioning equipment. The party had earlier asked MEC to suspend the process until the challenges were rectified. n