The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), through its director of Media and Public Relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa, has stated its intent to use the soon-to-be-issued National Identities in lieu of Voter Registration Certificates for the 2019 Tri-Partite Elections.
The exact wording of the statement reads: “For now you are registering as a citizen. At an appropriate time, MEC will conduct voter registration whereby all registrants will have to bring their national ID as a prime identification document. MEC will NOT issue you with a voter certificate this time around, the same ID will also be used for identification during polling. We will conduct voter registration as a legal requirement but also for logistical reason like we should know where everyone will vote so that we can deliver right quantities of ballot papers.”
When the matter caught the attention of this Kangaroo Court, sitting in the Public Opinion, application of mind to the details of the matter began and several issues, duly qualifying to be contentious, surfaced.
Thus in this ruling, this honourable Court seeks to address such issues, much to the provocation of zeal, in the public domain, to demand due process and activate aversion of any dishonest intent that may be.
This Court took caution of the statement that “all registrants will have to bring their national ID as a PRIME IDENTIFICATION” (emphasis mine).
Thus in understanding this statement, it is the Court’s interpretation that, perhaps, other forms of identification (which will not be prime) would still validly apply.
Indeed, this Court is reminded of Section 23 of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act, as read with the Malawi Electoral Commission Act, which determines possible evidence for person’s eligibility to register as a voter.
Quoting the relevant parts of the said Section, “an eligible person wishing to be registered as a voter in an election shall present, to a registration officer, sufficient and cogent proof of his eligibility and may do so by producing a passport, driver’s licence (even if expired), tax certificate or marriage certificate, an employment identity card or employment discharge certificate or a birth certificate or similarly authentic document of identity. Where one does not have either of the above, as the case of often with most villagers, a written, verbal or visual testimony of- (i) (ii) the chief, a village headman or a registered voter of the area also suffice.”
One should have thought that these forms of citizenship and age proof would not be trashed.
But then the statement proceeds to say that MEC will not issue, the ‘registrants’ with Voter Certificate this time around, further informing that the same national ID will be used for identification during polling. Apparently, this declaration from the Commission reflects of a consensus not willing to preserve this verification process.
This is whence the first contentious issue germinates.
The Malawi National Registration Bureau (NRB) had, on 24th May 2017, reportedly began its exercise of registering the citizens in the National Registration and Identification System (NRIS) project.
According to information brought to this Court, this mass registration exercise is planned to be done in 5 phases.
The first phase, which ends July 15 2017, covers the districts of Dowa, Kasungu, Mchinji, Nkhotakota, Ntchisi and Salima.
The second phase, which will stretch from June 27 to August 18, is to cover Dedza, Likoma, Lilongwe and Ntcheu districts.
From 31st July to 21st September 2017, residents of Blantyre, Chiradzulu, Chikwawa, Mulanje, Mwanza, Nsanje, Neno and Thyolo will be registered.
Phase 4 will run from 3rd September to 25th October 2017 in Balaka, Machinga, Mangochi, Phalombe and Zomba.
Finally, from 7th October to 28th November 2017, Malawians from Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, Nkhatabay and Rumphi will be registered.
However, this Court has learnt, on point of fact, that the exercise has been, so far, marred with logistical hiccups owing to the fact that some centres failed to open as the registration staff were protesting delays by the bureau to pay them.
This has far-reaching implications.
Firstly, by the end of this phase, few people will have managed to register. Following the outcry, people in other regions (South and North) will be adequately notified of the significance of the exercise.
Unlike their counterparts in the Centre who never had full information as to the connection between the cards attained from this registration process and the voting, they will be fully geared to register hence will eventually qualify for voter registration.
Secondly, by the time the process is rolled out in other regions, experience will drive the authorities to ensure rectification to the hiccups. Thus the prospective voters of the central region will unfairly suffer the designed evil impact of this scheme, as it seems to be.
Malawi is politically segmented in regional strata. This is a hard fact. The opposition MCP prides the Centre as its stronghold. Ensuring that a limited number of people, from this region, get access to this registration process, which will determine eligibility of voters, is a clear tactical manoeuvring to deny the MCP the numbers it would require to favourably and/or fairly compete in the 2019 polls.
In the mind of this Court, this is upfront fraud.
The fact that only individuals who are of, or above the age of 16 will be eligible for this registration by the NRB, squarely attests to the inclination or agenda of the government to use this during elections since in two years time, the population falling in this lower limit will be attaining 18 years – the voting age requirement.
This is absurd, illegal, undemocratic and unacceptable.
Throughout the history of Malawi national elections, the identification procedures, as recommended in the Act, have applied and we have not witnessed any flaws, with such procedure, warranting this abrupt departure.
The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi provides for guarantees of civil liberties and locates the source of power to govern in the people as manifested through the universal adult suffrage in elections. The Article 67 (1) of the Constitution is unambiguously clear on the holding of regular elections by universal adult suffrage. The Constitution also provides for the establishment of an institutional framework for the management of elections, herein MEC, and its full operational autonomy.
The Executive interference in the operations of MEC through directives carried in this ‘undemocratic’ scheme, smacks of unacceptable practices that should not be condoned at any cost (blood or sweat).
MEC is constitutionally empowered to manage elections. It is established through Chapter VII of the Constitution of Malawi and operationalised through the Electoral Commission Act. Its independence is unambiguously guaranteed in Section 76 (4) of the Constitution that mandates it to exercise its functions without interference for the registration process to be deemed fair and democratic.
The Electoral Commission Act, which borrows a leaf from the Constitution, bestows on the MEC the responsibility of exercising general direction and supervision over the conduct of every election and also has specific functions. Any nose from the government therefore into any operational conduct of MEC needs to be cut, perhaps with a hacksaw.
While this Court is not seeking to undermine or trivialise the importance of government’s initiative in registering citizens in a civil registry, the jumping in of MEC to utilize the dividends thereof should have been preceded the Commission’s initiative to sensitize the general public in good time.
MEC should have adopted a number of outreach strategies to ensure that all communities were informed. These outreach initiatives should have included radio and TV programmes, jingles, public meetings with chiefs, distribution of pamphlets and leaflets, drama, road shows, whichever could be effective as per Section 17 of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act (Cap 2:01 of the Laws of Malawi).
The fact that MEC failed to be open enough on this, at a good time than this, its statement can only be interpreted, and justifiably so, not only as a mark of failure in its civil obligation and constitutional duty to deliver a credible process of voter registration, but also as a willing conduit to perpetrate fraud in the upcoming elections.
This Court, therefore, declares the purported intention of MEC to use the these, yet to be issued, national IDs as the ONLY requirement to register as a voter, absurd.
This is an endeavour that cannot enjoy the support of the law. So it should fail to enjoy support of the public. It must be rejected and challenged!
Pronounced this 2nd Day of June 2017, in this Kangaroo Court, sitting in the Public Opinion.