Debate has ensued on Malawi Electoral Commission’s (MEC) decision restricting eligible voters to cast their votes in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections where they registered. Some critics have since accused the electoral body of disenfranchising affected voters.
In an interview yesterday, MEC commissioner responsible for electoral services Jean Mathanga stressed that only MEC staff and members of security agencies would be allowed to vote away from the centres where they registered.
She said: “At the moment, we cannot grant any transfers to anyone who wants to vote outside their centres because we are overwhelmed. You also need to understand that we have already cleaned the voters’ roll and any transfers would create problems.”
Mathanga said the electoral body also felt that allowing people to freely move from one centre to another could be seen as facilitating the transfer of votes, a development she said would not be in the best interest of candidates.
She said this year’s scenario has provided lessons to the commission to consider early voting in the subsequent elections.
MEC’s decision, a diversion from the practice in past elections, has left people such as monitors for various organisations, including United Nations (UN), political party monitors, local observers and journalists assigned to work away from their duty stations forfeiting their right to vote.
Ironically, MEC is acting in this manner at a time the electoral body has technologically advanced in terms of voters’ roll and its operations unlike in past elections when the systems were manual.
Reacting to MEC’s decision, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter and lawyer Raphael Kasambara yesterday faulted the electoral body.
In an interview, Kasambara advised the affected people to seek legal redress, saying: “This is a serious violation of the law. It is tantamount to disenfranchising voters. Remedy lies in the voters taking up the matter to court. Political parties must impress on MEC to change that decision.”
Misa Malawi Chapter chairperson Teresa Ndanga said the media freedom advocate has taken up the issue with MEC to allow journalists on duty to vote away from the centres they registered.
She said: “We are yet to get an official response from them. This has prompted us to engage them again today.”
Educationist Steve Sharra, who has moved from Blantyre where he registered to Lilongwe, also expressed disappointment with the development, saying MEC should learn from similar institutions in other countries on how to manage such challenges.
He said: “My view is that MEC is disenfranchising a big number of people who should have voted. This bothers me a lot because everyone knows that voting is important; hence, there are programmes to encourage people to go and vote.”
But MEC has the backing of Malawi Law Society (MLS) which says the electoral body’s justification makes sense.
In a telephone interview yesterday, MLS honorary secretary Martha Kaukonde said in the past such transfers messed up the voters’ roll.
She said: “Besides, MEC did announce that registered voters seeking transfers should make prior arrangements.”
Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) chairperson Steve Duwa, in a telephone interview, also lauded MEC for its vigilance in efforts to preserve the voters’ roll.
“In our view, what MEC is trying to do is to avoid chaos such as what was observed in the past elections where many people were just crossing to other centres to vote,” he said.
The 2019 voters roll recorded about 6.8 million voters which were registered after nine phases of registration.
During yesterday’s interview, Mathanga also clarified that long-term residents, notably those who have spent at least seven years in the country and are allowed by the law to vote, would not cast their votes because registration was strictly based on production of national identity cards.