Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) and Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) have resolved to introduce a biometric voter registration in preparation for 2019 Tripartite Elections. Parliamentary proceedings buoyed this decision by proposing an electoral reforms bill. Our Reporter NELLIE JOBO caught up with Mesn chairperson Steve Duwa on the proposal.
How can MEC avoid a repeat of irregularities which marred May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections?
The voters’ roll and election results were in a chaotic state. The voters’ roll was not made available in time to allow inspection. As a result, a good number of eligible voters had their particulars missing. The results sheets contained several arithmetical errors.
What needs to happen to avoid a repeat?
Going forward, in line with the current electoral reforms recommendations, MEC is encouraged to clean up the current voter register. The first option is to implement a biometric voter registration (BVR) using National Registration Bureau (NRB) database when the nationwide registration exercise is over. The generated voters’ roll should be made available to the public for inspection six months before the polling day and all voters in all centres should be allowed to verify their particulars. When it comes to the results, presiding officers shall record and display election results per polling stream in addition to displaying results of the polling station and the results sheet from polling stations will indicate results in both figures and words.
What is your take on the proposed Electoral Reforms Bill?
The proposed Bill, though done in good faith and in line with the recommendations of the defunct National Taskforce on Electoral Reforms (NTER), should have waited for the completion of the exercise by the Special Commission on Electoral Reforms so that we address all issues related to the legal framework for our elections at once.The piecemeal approach being pursued now will make it
difficult to monitor effectively the electoral law reform process.
How far have you gone in the race for electoral reforms and the use of biometric registration system in 2019?
Apart from the electoral law reform process being pursued by the Law Commission through the Special Law Commission on Electoral Reforms, Mesn engaged MEC and political parties under Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) to discuss our proposals to address challenges that have hampered the smooth running of general elections in Malawi since the transition to the multiparty democracy. The discussions culminated to signing of a joint communiqué by the three parties. Among other things, MEC should be committed to implementing a biometric voter registration and acquire software for the management and transmission of results that can quickly indicate problematic results if delayed and not implemented in time.
What is Mesn position on first -past- the post (FPTP) system compared with the 50-plus voting system?
As a member of the task force on electoral reforms, Mesn has not taken a unilateral position on any of the electoral reforms recommendations submitted to the law commission. Our view is that a healthy but robust discussion be allowed on each of the recommendation put forward for first-past-the-post and 50-plus voting system by the task force. Whatever decision is made, especially on the electoral system to be used, must seriously take into account its practicality in the country and it can be implemented. With regards to the 2019 Tripartite Elections, time and availability of adequate financial resources must not be ignored.
How does Mesn view the integration of the Local Government Elections Act and Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA)?
Mesn supports the view that the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act and the Local Government Election Act should be integrated into a single Election Act. Additionally, a referendum law should be put in place to detail the provisions and requirements to be met for a referendum. We also need laws to regulate political party financing and campaign funding. A law to govern the period of transition from the date of the election of the President to the inauguration day should be put in place to provide sufficient time for all petitions to be resolved prior to swearing-in ceremony.
Any advice regards to the Electoral Reforms Bill?
While electoral reforms are important, the nation needs to prioritise reforms for immediate implementation by MEC. We need to prioritise and support implementation of non-legislative electoral reforms already agreed upon. For the legal reforms, let us take the easy-win reforms to Parliament, especially those which promote an increase in number of women in Parliament and local councils. We appeal to government and development partners to support MEC plans for the 2019 Tripartite Elections in a timely manner and not organise the electoral process last minute.