The confidence expressed by Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) that it will be able to use biometric registration of the National Registration Bureau (NRB) in the 2019 tripartite elections is quite comforting.
Comforting because for the longest time, the voter registration process has been marred by controversy, distrust and, in other cases, unwarranted suspicions. Most allegations related to the rigging of elections have the voter registration process as the departure point. So, any attempts or measures to sanitise the process ahead of the 2019 polls is most certainly encouraging.
However, Mec must do much more than simply expressing confidence in the NRB registration process. The electoral body has the ultimate responsibility, duty and obligation to explain to this nation, exactly how it is going to use the NRB biometric registration for voting purposes and how it will ensure that the exercise is absolutely free from any form of compromise, political or not.
Already, part of the NRB registration exercise is flawed, from inadequate materials at the centres to misinformation provided to citizens and even fears of foreigners attempting to or successfully registering. Scores of Malawians have been queuing hours on end, in all regions, just to legitimise their nationality.
So, if this is the same exercise which will form the backbone of the voter registration exercise or replace it altogether, it better be undertaken with the highest level of professionalism and leave no room for errors, misjudgments or inaccuracies.
If this NRB process is key to the 2019 voter registration, the mistakes must be at the bare minimum, as even addressing voter apathy will greatly depend on the trust created at this point.
As things stand, it is not even a guarantee that NRB will register everyone, which means that some citizens might end up being disenfranchised. Mec must also remember that some Malawians have shunned the registration due to some religious beliefs. But these people will still need to vote. We shudder to imagine the magnitude of confusion this would cause to the credibility of the exercise, if some Malawians are denied suffrage.
So to be fair, it would be unwise for Mec to totally depend on an exercise that is new, on a pilot stage and still recording primary lessons, for a major national cause such as tripartite elections.
We advise Mec to not entirely depend on NRB, but instead devise a clear alternative so that no political force will compromise the process for selfish gains but most importantly, that no Malawian is denied the right to vote.
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