By Jordan Simeon-Phiri, MEC Stringer
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) says it will revisit registration centres in the seven districts for voter registration exercise to compensate for a day it missed during the first phase due to a pending COVID-19 lockdown.
In a statement released on Thursday, MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika said the Commission will do that after the last phase of registration exercise.
“The Commission is aware that phase one ended prematurely and it will revisit the Councils after the last phase of voter registration to ensure that all registration centres have ran for the minimum of statutory period of 14 days,” reads part of the statement.
Phase one of voter registration exercise took place in Chitipa, Karonga, Salima, Dedza, Blantyre, Chikwawa and Nsanje from April 4 to 16 instead of April 17 as MEC abruptly stopped the exercise after government had intended to impose a 21-day lockdown that was later challenged in court by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC).
But a day prior to the cancellation of the whole first phase, MEC had suspended the voter registration exercise in Blantyre City following attacks by armed and angry mobs at various voter registration centres in Blantyre, especially in Ndirande where registration equipment was vandalized and destroyed.
In a statement, MEC chairperson Justice Jane Ansah, SC had said “the decision has been made to protect the lives of registrants, voter registration staff and MEC property following sporadic attacks by unknown mobs, who blamed the Commission for continuing with voter registration amidst the threat of COVID-19 pandemic”.
And in abandoning the whole first days with just a day to go, Ansah had justified the decision that it was also because the Commission was awaiting the outcome of a case it filed with the Supreme Court of Appeal for orders or directions to vary the Constitutional Court order in view of the Coronavirus threat.
Thugs had stormed various centers of Blantyre City accusing the exercise of endangering people’s lives by proceeding with the electoral process amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
One man was reported to have been arrested by police at one of the centres.
Meanwhile, the country’s two major political parties have received the news with mixed reactions with Malawi Congress Party (MCP) secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka saying the one-day compensation is not enough as National Registration Bureau (NRB) deployed its officers to the seven districts one week after the exercise had begun.
“Much as we are happy with the development, as a party we would be much grateful if MEC had also extended registration exercise for NRB to ensure that every eligible person is registered into voter’s register considering that it took almost one week for NRB to deploy its officers to centres.
“So, to be fair, they could have added five more days,” Mkaka said.
While the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Nicholas Dausi said his party just follows what MEC says in its electoral calendar.
When the public had complained that it was cumbersome to go register for National ID first at the District Councils, MEC then placed at least a team NRB staff per ward to those without the national ID.
MEC is registering those that have turned 18 and above, or will attain voting age by 11 June 2020 or never registered as voters during the 2019 Tripartite Elections and the three by-elections held thereafter.
According to Alfandika, all voters who registered during the 2019 Tripartite Elections and the three by-elections held thereafter, need not register this time around and that those that have changed residences, should report to the new centres they now belong to in order to process transfers.
“For efficient processing, voters are informed to bring along their voter certificates,” says Alfandika. “Those that lost their voter certificates should go and get duplicate certificates at the centre they registered.”
To register with the NRB, a registrant needs to bring along either two witnesses who are holders of national ID or a biological parent who holds a national ID.
The second phase of voter registration will commence on Monday, April 27 to run for two weeks up to May 10 covering Rumphi, Likoma, Dowa, Lilongwe District, Lilongwe City, Luchenza Municipality, Phalombe, Mulanje and Thyolo.
The third phase is scheduled for in 8 districts — Nkhata Bay, Mzimba, Nkhotakota, Ntchisi, Dowa, Balaka, Neno and Mwanza.
The last phase is for nine districts — Kasungu District, Kasungu Municipality, Mchinji, Mangochi District, Mangochi Town, Machinga, Zomba District, Zomba City (central) and Chiradzulu.—Additional reporting by Duncan Mlanjira