Maputo — Mozambique's voter registration, ahead of the municipal elections scheduled for 11 October, ended on Saturday night, but with many citizens still unable to register.
The National Elections Commission (CNE) had refused the calls from opposition parties for extra days for registration. The CNE spokesperson, Paulo Cuinica, claimed that extending the registration period would disrupt the rest of the timetable for the municipal elections. Furthermore, the CNE did not have the money for such an extension.
The only concession the CNE made was to extend the opening hours of the registration posts from 17.00 to 22.00 on Friday and to zero hours on the final day, Saturday.
But observers found that, in several municipalities, the district directors of the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), although it is subordinate to the CNE, in fact disregarded the CNE instructions.
Correspondents for the election bulletin published by the anti-corruption NGO, the Centre for Public Integrity, found that many registration posts in the central and northern provinces, instead of working until midnight on Saturday, closed their doors at 18.00 or earlier - even if there were still many potential voters in the queues. As far as AIM is aware, there was no instruction from the CNE allowing this.
Thus in Maganja da Costa municipality, in Zambezia province, all posts were closed by 18.00. In Morrumbala municipality, they closed even earlier at 17.00. In Gurue, also in Zambezia, all 67 registration posts were closed by 19.00. In the city of Cuamba, in Niassa province, all the posts also closed early.
At least three posts in Marromeu municipality, in the central province of Sofala, also closed by 18.00. In many cases, including Marromeu and Cuamba, the excuse given for stopping early was that there was no electricity to run the computers and printers.
Another claim by STAE directors and registration brigade supervisors was that the computers and/or printers had broken down.
CIP found this claim suspicious - the same equipment is used on 160 countries. Can Mozambique be the only place where the machines break down so regularly?
CIP spoke to a specialist in "Mobile IDs' (as the computers used in the registration are known) who said that the level of breakdowns reported in Mozambique had never happened anywhere else. It seemed strange that the supervisors at the registration posts did not promptly inform the consortium formed by the companies Lexton and Artes Graficas, which imported the machines. The specialist pointed out that the consortium has technical staff to repair breakdowns.
Some problems reported are real, but simple to deal with. Problems in taking voters' photographs and fingerprints are likely due to the quality of the light, and to the shine on voters' faces, rather than any mechanical failure. In these cases, the brigades should have told the voters to wipe their faces with a cloth or towel.
Furthermore, should the digital capture of images fail, there is a back-up system of manual capture. It should be impossible for both systems to fail at the same time. However, it seems that the brigades did not use the manual capture system.
The Mobile IDs can overheat, or suffer from hardware or software defects. But the CIP report puts such cases at less than one per cent. According to the specialist, if there is a hardware problem, there is a guarantee of immediate replacement. If the problem is a software breakdown, repairs are carried out in minutes or hours, and never take a day. But some of the STAE supervisors are claiming that the computers are out of action for a week.
One result of the supposed breakdowns is that the printers have not been able to print the voter cards which voters should show at the polling stations in order to vote on 11 October. There is a backlog of many thousands of cards yet to be printed. Now that the registration period is over, it is not clear how these will be delivered to their owners.
The long queues on Friday and Saturday imply that many people, having failed to register, may be unable to vote in the municipal elections. For example, in the northern city of Nacala, by Friday, the penultimate day of registration, about 140,000 people had been registered out of a target of 183,000. Even if all the Nacala posts were fully operational, it would be impossible to register 43,000 voters by midnight on Saturday.
There are similar problems in cities such as Beira and Quelimane, where there were large crowds of potential voters on Friday and Saturday.