The Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) has summoned a National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting on Monday at Parliament Building in Lilongwe amid growing concerns by opposition parties over the national registration campaign.
Opposition parties have particularly been alarmed with hitches that have characterised the campaign, ranging from staff turnover, particularly among supervisors, to shortage of stationery and equipment.
In an interview on Friday, Mec spokesperson, Sangwani Mwafulirwa, said the electoral body has arranged the meeting to explain the use of national identity cards during voting in the 2019 tripartite elections so that all critical stakeholders have a common understanding.
“We initiated the meeting considering that the matter is of national interest and every stakeholder needs to have full information about it,” Mwafulirwa said.
The matter sparked a heated debate in Parliament on Thursday when some legislators called for the suspension of the exercise until the glitches have been rectified.
Member of Parliament (MP) for Kasungu Central, Amon Nkhata, raised concerns that the government is deliberately frustrating the registration exercise in Central Region districts for electoral purposes.
Phase one of the mass registration exercise—covering the Central Region districts of Dowa, Kasungu, Mchinji, Nkhotakota, Ntchisi and Salima—started on May 24 and ends on July 15.
Nkhata moved a motion for parliamentarians to discuss the challenges besetting the exercise, saying, while implementation of the programme is welcome, it is politically suspicious.
He charged that the exercise has been dogged by late distribution of materials, inadequate civic education, solar powered equipment that is struggling to function in winter and officers who know little about their duties.
In a press statement dated June 13 2017, the National Registration Bureau (NRB) acknowledged the challenges that have beset the registration exercise, particularly inadequate solar energy for charging registration machines.
Nkhata said considering Mec’s announcement that the national identity cards would be used in the 2019 tripartite elections, frustrating would-be voters through a chaotic registration exercise is suspicious.
“People are being sent back due to faulty machines and all sorts of challenges and they are now frustrated. And if these people fail to register that means they will not have any chance to vote in an election.
“We have been talking about these challenges and the government has been defending this, which is suspicious,” Nkhata said.
He called for the suspension of the exercise until all the problems are sorted out.
“Suspend the exercise, civic educate the people, train the officers thoroughly, rectify the problems on the machines and provide all necessary resources,” he said.
But Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Grace Chiumia, said all faulty machines have been worked on and civic education has been done through many means.
Dowa East MP, Richard Chimwendo Banda, said registration should not have a timeframe to enable all eligible Malawians register.
“When you try to defend things which are not working then we question the motive behind your stand,” Chimwendo Banda said.
MP for Rumphi West, Jacqueline-Kouwenhoven, said the fact that the national IDs have been politicised through electoral connection means that suspicions are inevitable.
“To start an exercise which has a lot of challenges— including financial, technical, human resources and many others— is not good,” she said.
A person familiar with the registration exercise said the opposition parties were particularly spooked after President Peter Mutharika encouraged people at a rally recently in the Southern Region to register in readiness for the elections in 2019.
Some members of the Democratic Progressive Party in the Southern Region have made similar calls, which has stoked fears that the government has intentions to disenfranchise some citizens in the Central Region.
The source, who declined to be named, however, observed that the MPs’ fears lack a basis and faulted the opposition parties for failing to seize the initiative to sensitise their supporters about the importance of the national registration exercise.
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