Malawi Electoral Commission’s (Mec) Director of Media and Public Relations, SANGWANI MWAFULIRWA, explains the commission’s preparedness for tomorrow’s by-elections to FAITH KAMTAMBE.
Q: Polling is slated for Tuesday, October 17, how has Mec prepared for the by-elections so that they are a success?
A: The commission has prepared very well for these by-elections. It has engaged 793 temporary staff to help run the polls in all the centres. These include 62 presiding officers, 411 polling clerks, 71 ushers and 130 security officers. The commission has also employed 119 assistant presiding officers to help man the process in polling stations with more than one polling stream. These staffers have already been trained in their roles. We have provided all the polling stations with adequate materials and equipment and we expect polling to run uninterrupted. Should anything prop up, we have backup and response teams to respond to that.
Q: Media are allowed to announce unofficial results from the centres but the final ones come from Mec. When should the nation expect official results from the commission?
A: Results counting will commence soon after close of polls. Each centre will count its results and monitors will have to sign for the results. The centre results will be taken to the constituency tally centre where they will be tabulated at that level and also sent to the main tally centre in Blantyre. The commission has planned to announce the official results in the afternoon of Wednesday, October 18 2017 at a function to be held in Blantyre. We hope by this time, the commission will have managed to address all issues or queries that may arise.
Q: Previous by-elections have been characterised by low voter turnout which some commentators have attributed to dissatisfaction with how Mec managed 2014 elections. What measures did you put in place to ensure there is high voter turnout?
A: The commission has stepped up voter education in the campaign period through public meetings with traditional leaders and their subjects, deploying loudhailer mobilising teams which have been also distributing brochures, posters, letters and other civic education materials. We have crisscrossed the constituencies and wards reaching out to every corner with messages on the need for registered voters to turnout in large numbers. Apart from mobilising people for high turnout, the civic education teams have also taken time to teach them how to vote with the aim of minimising number of null and void votes.
Q: Which areas are the by-elections taking place and how did the vacancies arise?
A: The by-elections are taking place in three constituencies: Lilongwe Msozi North, Lilongwe City South East and Nsanje Lalanje, and three wards: Mayani North in Dedza, Mtsiliza in Lilongwe City and Ndirande Makata in Blantyre City. Except for Lilongwe City South East where the Supreme Court nullified results of the May
2014 elections, the vacancies in all the other five areas arose because of deaths.
Q: The by-elections are being held with only 19 months to go before the next elections, is it worth the trouble or the commission could have used the money and resources to prepare well for 2019 elections?
A: The principle of democratic representation cannot be given a monetary value or be substituted. Members of Parliament and councillors do important work in representing their people in Parliament and councils. So it is important that these by-elections are held. Democracy demands that elections be held now so that people in these six areas can have representation in the right forums all the time. As we speak today we have about 19 months to the next tripartite elections. We need to concentrate on our plans for the elections to be successful one. Mec is hoping that as we move towards 2019, there will not be any more vacancies that will require Mec to hold any more by-elections that fall within six months from the polling date of the tripartite elections.
Q: Recently, there have been reports of some people copying voter certificates of candidates with an intention to rig or influence the voters’ choice of candidates in the elections. Will this not affect the outcome of the elections?
A: Mec is also not aware of the reasons people copy voter certificate numbers. What everyone should know is that it is impossible to produce a duplicate certificate and use it to vote. When one presents at the centre to vote, the staff check if 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. 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 institutions used as centres are not disability-friendly as the classrooms have steps that pose a challenge for those on wheelchairs. Have you addressed these concerns?
A: The commission has put in place measures to help persons with disabilities cast their ballots with ease. On 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. In addition, 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, under the law, it is only the presiding officer, and alone, who 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. On this one, the clerk issuing the ballot papers shall also issue the voter with the tactile ballot template and demonstrate how to use it. The polling staff shall lead the voter to the ballot booth and then withdraw to give the voter a chance to choose a candidate of their choice in secret. After marking on the ballot paper, the voter shall be guided again by polling staff to the ballot box to cast their ballot paper.
Q: Any last words to registered voters and candidates?
In any election, there is only one winner. Those who will emerge victorious they should celebrate with responsibility, averting provoking others to anger. Those who lose should go back to the drawing board and start planning for the next elections. The police shall be on high alert and anyone perpetrating violence shall be picked. An appeal goes to all registered voters to ensure that they show up for polling. Each and every vote counts in an election, so the vote must be counted.
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