With the May tripartite elections fast approaching, some politicians are said to be collecting and keeping details of registration cards from potential voters, a practice which MEC has described as criminal.
“Keeping someone’s voter certificate is a criminal act. People should report the matter to the nearest police if someone is coercing them to submit their voter certificates. The commission is reminding all citizens that it is their responsibility to keep their voter certificates safe.
“They are under no obligation to give it to someone and let alone allow someone to access it for whatever purpose,” said MEC commissioner responsible for electoral services, Chinkwita Phiri, in an interview this week.
Other stakeholders have described the situation as worrying as the details could be used to reproduce other parallel voter registration cards for rigging purposes.
Weekend Nation has learnt that the alleged malpractice is prevalent in Salima, Dedza, Mangochi, Chikhwawa, Zomba and Mulanje where politicians are enticing voters to surrender their registration cards and get food or cash handouts in return.
In an interview on Thursday, National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) regional officer (Centre) Vincent Kalawa said his office has continuously been getting complaints concerning politicians who are collecting details of voter registration cards.
“There are many reports that we are getting on that issue in districts like Salima, Dedza and Mangochi. What is remaining is for us to go on the ground to find out exactly what is happening. We have communicated the same to MEC officials.
“We have plans to travel to the affected sites next week to do further investigation in order to come to the bottom of this matter in terms of what is really happening,” said Kalawa.
Some Nice officials also confided in Weekend Nation that some politicians gathered people around Kamuzu Bridge in Salima last Saturday to collect serial numbers of their voter registration cards in exchange for maize flour and money.
Another Nice regional officer (South) Christopher Naphiyo also said they have intensified civic education in the Southern Region following numerous complaints from voters about politicians collecting serial numbers of voter registration cards.
“We have had these complaints in districts like Chikhwawa, Mulanje and Zomba. This has prompted us to go flat out with civic education to advise people not to give their voter registration cards to anyone. In Chikhwawa, we had a case where some people actually took away people’s voter registration cards and the matter was reported to police,” said Naphiyo.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) national coordinator Chris Chisoni on Thursday said CCJP has also received complaints on the issue from Chikhwawa and Mangochi and they have been pushing MEC to act.
“The reports are concerning some political leaders who are trying to get details of voter registration cards while some are said to be completely buying the cards. We have raised these issues with MEC which has said this is a police case.
“So far, there has not been any case in the courts which has been concluded on this matter,” said Chisoni.
He said CCJP wants to understand the intention of the people who are collecting the information.
“We are seeking to push MEC to give us reasons as to why there should be interest in the details of the voter registration cards. We want to understand why the culprits should be interested in getting these details,” said Chisoni.
He, however, claimed MEC has not been forthcoming, saying: “We don’t think MEC is more forthcoming to address these issues. While MEC may not be able to deal with these cases within its legal jurisdiction, we believe that MEC can push the police to ensure these issues are addressed,” said Chisoni.
He said collection of details of people’s voter registration cards can negatively affect the electoral process by instilling fear in the owners of the cards whose details have gone into the hands of politicians.
“Whilst MEC assures us that there is no direct threat to the electoral process when one gets details of voter registration cards of other people, it creates a psychological effect in the voters in terms of directly pushing the voters to vote for the person who has collected details of their cards.
“People start fearing that if I don’t vote for this person, then he will know that I didn’t vote for him by tracing the serial number. This may obstruct people’s participation in the electoral process,” said Chisoni.
But Chinkwita Phiri said although MEC has received reports of some people collecting details of voter registration cards, no political party has claimed responsibility.
“The Malawi Electoral Commission has received reports of some people copying voter certificate numbers. We do not know the motive behind this practice. The commission during the last National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) put up the issue on the floor for the parties to explain.
“Apparently no single political party accepted that they were doing it and let alone explained the motives behind the act. People should not be scared that they will not vote because someone copied the serial number of their certificate and neither that the people who copied the serial numbers will know which candidate they will have voted for in the elections,” said Chinkwita Phiri.
He said MEC is using its structures, including Multiparty Liaison Committees, in districts to deal with the reported cases.
“In all cases where MEC has been alerted on alleged impending acts of violation of electoral laws such as the Salima issue, the persons implicated are called to desist from the action if this is true. This is in line with the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates.
“Furthermore, the MEC has a Multiparty Liaison Committee in each council whose other jurisdiction is to deal with such cases at council level. Both Nice and CCJP participate in this organ,” said Chinkwita Phiri.
Chancellor College political analyst Joseph Chunga said it is possible that those who are collecting details of people’s voter registration cards have intentions to rig in the forthcoming election.
“We have to understand this in terms of the actual malpractice in the electoral process and appearance of the malpractice in the process.
“Both cases pose a negative effect on the election. It is possible that they have an intention to rig the election and it is also possible that they may not succeed to rig the election. But people will still be suspicious even if nothing happens,” said Chunga.
He said serial numbers of people’s voter registration cards may be used to reproduce other cards intended for rigging the election.
“People can reproduce those cards using the serial numbers they have collected and give them to people who are not eligible to vote. That can create different parallel voting cards which can be used because their serial numbers will be properly verified in the voter’s roll.
“The effect is that the outcome of that election cannot really reflect the wish of the voters. I don’t think it is impossible for MEC to track down these people who are offering incentives to those who turn up to present their cards,” said Chunga.
Asked why no one has been arrested on the matter, national police spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo asked for a questionnaire which she had not responded to when we went to press.