Mozambique: Is Witness Clause in Electoral Law Being Abused?

Maputo — Representatives of neighbourhood structures in Maputo city and province on Friday protested at alleged abuses of a clause in the electoral legislation that allows would-be voters, who have no documentation, to use witnesses to identify them to voter registration brigades.

Citizens wishing to register as voters should present the registration brigade with their identity card, passport, or any other recognised document which contains a photograph, signature or fingerprint. But, in cases where they have no documents at all, they are allowed to call upon witnesses to vouch for their identity.

These witnesses may be religious or traditional authorities, or two people who have already registered at the same registration post.

But, at a meeting on Friday with members of the Natonal Elections Commission (CNE), claims were made that the clause on witnesses allows "illicit" situations. It was claimed that the same people were acting as witnesses for up to ten different people, who were supposedly relatives or neighbours.

A man named Joao Magaia, from the Maputo neighburhood of Albasini claimed that the resort to witnesses was causing "a lot of confusion". He noted that there has been a major effort by the Civic Identification Directorate to ensure that Maputo citizens have access to identification documents, and so there was little justification for frequent resort to witnesses.

He feared that the use of witnesses could be a ploy to obtain voter cards for foreigners, including those living in the country illegally. There were cases of people attempting to register who could not even give their address. When asked they could not give the number of their houses, or the blocks where they supposedly lived.

Other participants at the meeting protested that, even n Maputo City, there are still problems with the electricity supply needed by the registration brigades. A man named Dionisio Carlos said that in the schools used as registration posts, the pre-paid electricity meters sometimes ran out of money, and the brigades did not have the funds to recharge them.

In these cases, the brigades had to take their computers to the district headquarters to recharge them. People queuing up to register went home disappointed, and with no certainty as to when the registration post would open again. Carlos believed this accounted for the poor turn-out at Maputo City registration posts.

CNE spokesperson Paulo Cuinica said the CNE was aware of these problems - but because the 15 October general elections have to be held, even with the few resources available, there was no alternative but to press on.

Cuinica was optimistic. He said that at the same stage in the registration in 2014, in the run-up to the previous general elections, rather more than 22,000 voters had been registered in Maputo City. This year, the city registration was already 31,348.

Nonetheless this is still only 36.79 per cent of the target figure of 120,655. At the current registration rate, Maputo city will register less than 70,000 new voters.

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