Maputo — Observers from Mozambican civil society organisations doubt the feasibility of completing registration of all potential voters in the remaining fortnight of the voter registration period.
Voter registration ahead of the general elections scheduled for 15 October began on 15 April and is due to end on 30 May. According to the statistics issued by the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), in the first four weeks of registration (15 April-12 May), 3.7 million voters had registered. This is 50.35 per cent of the target figure of 7.34 million. The likelihood of registering the remaining 3.64 million in the time available seems remote.
A coalition of civil society bodies - including the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic church, the League of NGOs known as Joint, the Civil Society Learning and Training Centre (CESC), and Sociedade Aberta (Open Society) - told a press conference on Friday that a significant minority of registration posts suffered interruptions, sometimes for days, because their printers broke down, or there was no connection between computer and printers, or because they ran out of toner or paper to print voter cards.
There were serious electricity problems, with generators breaking down or running out of fuel, and the poor quality of solar panels supplied by STAE.
Worse still, STAE showed poor capacity to respond to these problems in good time. "Some brigades stopped their activities for more than three days while they waited for STAE technical staff to repair the breakdowns", said a statement issued by the civil society bodies.
A spokesperson for the coalition, Jose Dias, of Socieade Aberta, feared that these delays would have a demobilising effect, and that people turned away from registration posts because machines were not working might not return, and so would lose their right to vote.
The coalition has 600 observers who are visiting registration posts in all 161 districts in Mozambique (including Maputo city's seven urban districts). Divided into groups of three, the observers visit one or more registration posts a day. From 15 April to 12 May they visited 2,893 posts (out of a total of 7,737). 1,917 were visited once and 976 were visited more than once.
90 per cent of the posts visited began work on 15 April. In the ensuing four weeks, 83 per cent of the posts observed opened regularly - but a large minority, 17 per cent, interrupted their operations for one or more days.
Some did not open at all. The coalition knew of five posts in Mogovolas district, in the northern province of Nampula, and of 24 in Gurue district, in the central province of Zambezia, that could not open in the first month because of equipment failures. However, all these posts are working now.
A large number of posts in the northern province of Cabo Delgado interrupted their work because of the passage of cyclone Kenneth which hit the Cabo Delgado post on 25 April. However, the situation was now returning to normal.
More problematic is the security situation in Cabo Delgado, where many people have fled from their homes, in districts such as Mocimboa da Praia, Macomia and Palma, because of a low level insurgency waged by Islamic fundamentalists.
The observers noted some serious abuses. In Nampula, some brigades delivered the voter cards, not to the voters, but to the neighbourhood secretaries, who recorded the numbers for their own obscure purposes before giving them to their owners. This is entirely illegal, and Jose Dias said the observers would notify STAE of this.
In Metarica district, in the northern province of Niassa, observers founds that 15 and 16 year old girls, were allowed to register, despite not being of voting age, simply because they were carrying babies.
The coalition found there are still cases where their observers are prevented from observing, by the police or by members of the electoral bodies, even when the observers are carrying credentials.
The Sofala Provincial Elections Commission was still reluctant to issue credentials, and the Maputo Provincial Commission added demands which are simply not in the rules on observations. For instance, the Commission demanded that the observers already possess voter cards - which makes no sense since the registration is issuing the voter cards right now and will go on doing so until the end of May.