‘It is impossible to produce a duplicate certificate’

 

Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) will on October 17 hold by-elections in three constituencies and three wards in the country. These by-elections are coming against the background of lack of funding, an issue that forced MEC to indefinitely postpone the elections initially scheduled for June 6. Our news analyst MERCY MALIKWA engages MEC director of media and public relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa on the by-elections preparations and other electoral issues. Excerpts:

 

Mwafulirwa:Only four out of 19 candidates contesting are women

Q

: How are the preparations going on?

A

: The preparations are on course and MEC is assuring all people that, come October 17, by-elections will take place in all the six areas where they are scheduled to happen. As we stand today, funding has been provided to MEC and that is why we have managed to conduct several processes like registration and voter update, nomination and now we are planning to start printing ballot papers. We should assure everyone that the process won’t stop this time around.

Q

: Since the official campaign started on September 13 2017, has MEC received any complaint regarding electoral malpractice or violence?

A

: The commission is monitoring the campaign activities and so far no complaint has been received bordering on intimidation, violence, disruption of rallies, creating of no-go zones for other candidates and even use of foul language. This is an indicator that our democracy is maturing and candidates and their supporters are now turning to issue-based campaign. We are optimistic that this will be the status up to the end of the campaign.

Q

: MEC reduced nomination fees for women to encourage their participation in elections as candidates. Is the initiative bearing intended results?

A

: The commission has always been eager to implement ideas that can promote women participation in elections as candidates if its neutrality cannot be compromised. In 2013, MEC introduced the 25 percent discount for local government and parliamentary women candidates in preparation for the Tripartite Elections in 2014.

The practice has been maintained in all the four sets of by-elections held since May 2014. While the commission is confident with the initiative, it is apparent that more work needs to be done by other stakeholders.

In the current by-elections there are 19 candidates of whom only four are women; three are contesting for parliamentary seats while one is standing for local government. In Msozi North Constituency, Mtsiliza and Ndirande-Makata wards all the contestants are men. There are many reasons why people choose to contest or not but it has always been the wish of all stakeholders, including MEC, to see women contesting in all elections.

Q

: How many voters are expected to vote in these by-elections?

A

: A total of 160 339 voters are expected to cast their ballots in all the three constituencies

and three wards. Of these, 12 428 are new voters who were registered during a voter register update run from August 24 to 28.

Q

: Past by-elections have been characterised by low voter turnout. What are you doing to counter this trend?

A

: MEC is intensifying its civic and voter education outreach through community engagement meetings where community stakeholders such as chiefs, faith leaders and their subjects are invited. The commission is also deploying teams with loudhailers that go into the communities with messages about the importance of taking part in polling. We have also printed posters and brochures that are being distributed with messages about elections. These teams also go in the communities to distribute letters to faith leaders and teachers which are read in churches and schools. MEC is also placing jingles on radio stations to reach out to the same electorate. However, MEC at the same time recognises that other stakeholders have a role to play, especially political parties. We have noted in the past that during campaign period, rallies are well patronised by supporters of the candidates or parties. But during polling, these people do not show up in good numbers to vote. We encourage politicians as they are conducting their rallies to motivate their followers to turnout in large numbers for polling. The best thing a member can do for a candidate or party they love is to vote in their favour and not just attend rallies. They should know that it is casting a ballot which counts if a party or candidate will get a seat and not high turnout during campaign rallies.

Q

: Recently, there have been media reports that some politicians were copying voter certificate numbers with an intention of rigging the elections. What has the MEC done to address the situation?

A

: MEC is also not aware of the reasons why people copy voter certificate numbers because it is impossible to produce a duplicate certificate and use it to vote. When one presents a voter certificate at the centre to vote, the staff have to check that the voter certificate photo and details match with those in the register and also with the person who wants to vote. There will also be an extra voters’ register for the monitors so that they can also check the correctness of the details against the register and the person intending to vote.  Any variation like a voter presenting a certificate whose details are different from what we have in the register has to be probed.  Include the fact that even those who have lost their certificate can vote as long as they are on the register and positively identified.

Q

: Persons with disabilities have always complained that some facilities used at centres are not disability friendly. Have you addressed these concerns?

A

: The commission has put in place measures to help persons with disabilities cast their ballots with ease. On the polling day, they will not be allowed to queue but will be ushered to the front. Voting will not take place in classrooms, some of which have steps with no rumps, but on open ground which means those using wheelchairs will be able to access the polling processes with ease. For those with visual challenge, the law says they should bring along someone whom they trust to assist them in voting but not making a choice for them. If they fail to bring someone, then the presiding officer alone should assist that person. Apart from the provision of the law, the commission will also provide tactile ballot templates which will enable persons with visual impairment to cast their votes on their own. n

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