Maputo — The "Sala da Paz" (Peace Room), a platform of Mozambican election observation bodies, on Thursday recommended a further extension to the voter registration period, at least in those provinces affected by the two recent cyclones - Sofala, Manica, Tete and Zambezia in the centre of the country, and Cabo Delgado and parts of Nampula in the north.
Initially, voter registration should have begun on 1 April and ended on 15 May. But cyclone Idai, which struck the central provinces on 14 March, forced the government to postpone the registration by a fortnight. It started on 15 April and is scheduled to end on 30 May.
But while registration was under way, a second cyclone hit. Cyclone Kenneth smashed into Cabo Delgado on 25 April, completely disrupting registration in the north of the province. The torrential rains it brought also had a severe impact on coastal Nampula.
Even without the cyclones, voter registration faced formidable problems in terms of equipment and logistics. A Thursday statement from Sala da Paz warned that "if measures are not taken, many of the constraints could contribute to making the registration and the subsequent phases of the elections non-viable".
To save money, the electoral bodies opted not to order completely new equipment. Hence many of the registration brigades are using the same equipment as in the voter registration of 2013-2014. This computerised registration and printing kit (known as a "Mobile ID") has proved vulnerable to frequent breakdowns, and in some cases shut down completely.
The statement noted that breakdowns, particularly with the printers, forced lengthy interruptions in registration. Furthermore, maintenance only occurred when the brigades complained - no maintenance plan had been drawn up in advance.
The Mobile Ids are absolutely dependent on a reliable source of power. But many of the registration posts (mostly located in schools) had electricity problems, and solar panels "were not allocated with the necessary flexibility".
The Sala da Paz found 325 posts in four provinces - Sofala (149), Manica (16), Zambezia (44) and Cabo Delgado (57) - that could not function at all in the first fortnight of registration for lack of electricity.
The two cyclones drove many people out of their homes, caused major power cuts and destroyed classrooms where registration posts should have functioned. Thus cyclone Idai wrecked over 250 classrooms in Sofala and Zambezia where the brigades should have worked.
In Cabo Delgado, cyclone Kenneth paralysed many of the brigades. In Ibo, one of the worst hit districts, there was no registration at all between 25 April and 6 May.
In addition to the cyclone damage, the northern districts of Cabo Delgado are grappling with security problems arising from a low level insurgency by terrorist groups inspired by Islamic fundamentalism. This has led to significant population movements, as people flee from areas regarded as vulnerable to terrorist attack.
The population maps used by STAE (Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat) to plot the locations of the registration posts are now out of date. The Sala da Paz suggests that in areas that have been depopulated because of the insurgency or are classified as vulnerable because of the cyclones and floods, the registration posts should be relocated.
The statement calls for extended registration, not only in the provinces hit by natural disasters, but also in all posts that took more than five days to open. There should also be "a rapid allocation of resources to strengthen the second half of the registration period" - bearing in mind the experiences of the past, when many voters left registration to the last few days.
The registration, the Sala da Paz warns, "is taking place in the midst of adversities and in an unsatisfactory manner. This may compromise meeting the registration targets, and affect the trust of the stakeholders and the credibility of the elections".