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MBABANE – Proposed changes to the country’s electoral laws will result in over 500 000 people being automatically registered for the 2023 National General Elections.

The envisaged changes, which are still to be tabled in Parliament, will be such that those who registered for the previous elections (2018), which means they are already in the data base, will not need to register for this year’s process. It is hoped that the proposed changes will be passed by Parliament before the end of April. Chief Elections Advisor Patrick Phungwayo revealed during a breakfast meeting between the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) and stakeholders from various sectors of society that the amendments to the legislation would result in only first-time voters, which would mostly be those who had just attained the age of 18, being the ones to register.

opportunity to register

Also, those who did not have the opportunity to register in the previous election will be allowed to have their names included in the voter’s roll. During the previous national elections, the EBS had projected registering 650 000 eligible voters based on the latest Population Census at the time, but at the end of the registration period a total of 547 426 voters were registered, which depicted an 84 per cent of the eligible voter population. This also showed a considerable increase by 132 722 (14 per cent) registrants from the 414 704 (70 per cent) registrants in the 2013 National Election.  The 547 426 voters who registered for the 2018 elections will therefore be automatically registered for this year’s elections. “We must be able to have a continuous voter registration so that we build on the data base that we have instead of always starting afresh, which is why there is a law already that we have actually put across to Parliament to try and cement that process. So all of us have registered; those who have not registered please go and do so when the registration is open because we are having a live voter registration,” Phungwayo said.

He said the practicability of the continuous voter registration was evidenced by the fact that during the by-elections that took place, the very same data from the national elections was used. “Which is why we are ready enough as a country to have a live voters’ list and we invite those people who have not registered or those who were younger at that time to come through and register when registration is open,” the chief elections advisor stated.

state of preparedness

Phungwayo when giving the EBC’s state of preparedness for the elections stated that the registration amendments were already there, and the commission was just waiting for everyone’s support as they were being discussed at different levels so that by the time April comes they would be through with the process. “It’s a prayer and a miracle. So whoever has divine powers or anything that can assist, this is the right time now. We want the amended laws to have passed by April. We pray for that. These are the little things we need to work on,” he said. He outlined how the process (elections) was all about people because even though one might have systems in place, the required equipment and everything at their disposal, but they still needed people. “So, elections are around people. It’s the people who need to understand why they need to engage in elections and that you have got people who have to make sure that processes of a credible and affair elections takes place and is a possibility. We have a massive task on our shoulders. At this short time we have to deliver credible and fair elections,” Phungwayo said.

To have credible elections, he said they had done everything that touched on boundaries and that the civic voter education was ongoing and had commenced with the review of legislation, which was why even Parliament had been invited to the breakfast meeting so they would be sensitive to the issues since they would be bringing in Bills for finalisation and adoption by the House. Another proposed change will be in regard to polling stations and counting of votes, an aspect which had always experienced a challenge as officers had to travel with ballot boxes from one polling station to  designated areas for counting immediately after closing of poll. “There is always the notion that we can actually tamper with what is in the ballot boxes. To get trust, we are looking at making sure that we count at the polling station itself so that there is transparency in our elections and so that we afford ourselves the credibility that we need,” Phungwayo outlined.

Previously, the counting became so tedious as the ballot boxes were taken to one designated area in every constituency, such that counting for the different elective offices was done concurrently in different rooms. The announcement of results would then be done by the returning officer immediately after the conclusion of the counting. With the coming changes, the results will be communicated from each polling station and ballot boxes will be transported before the counting is concluded. Further, Phungwayo said they were looking at upscaling the issue of a code for the media and the commission’s legal department was already working on this critical area.

media issues

“There is always that sensitivity about media issues where you have the media covering other candidates and not others for so many reasons, but we want to balance that. It is so painful and unfair for other candidates to see themselves playing second fiddle to their competitors who are more popular in the media than them,” he said. He said the code would try and ensure that all candidates received similar media coverage. Still on the media, Phungwayo said the commission’s marketing strategy was already in place and would soon be having advertisements on both electronic and print media as well as erecting billboards and other platforms around the country to show that the elections were ready. On women participation, the chief elections advisor called on organisations that represent men to, this time, pay focus on electing women.

He said this was because it was not like there is a fight between the two but it is supposed to build support between these genders. “Actually we (men) have enjoyed support of our fairer sex for a very long time. They have been electing us all these past years, so let us also elect them and not leave them to elect each other. Let’s return the favour and make sure we trust that they can do it. Let’s showcase to the whole world not just through the by-elections but by electing the women through the whole electoral process; let’s elect them not because the law says so, but because we trust them,” Phungwayo implored. He admitted that the ongoing civic education was a very difficult one, mainly because it commenced much later than it should have.
He pleaded with all stakeholders to create platforms and time as well as provide resources to make sure that this activity happened so that the commission ticked the correct boxes when the observer missions arrive.

“Fortunately, already the observer missions are around the corner and will be coming through to see if we have covered every area and conducted the civic education in all our communities. Unfortunately, there are things we can’t avoid: Our polling divisions are around 336; we cannot go to the poll without making sure we have educated all of them, at least on how to vote and the voting processes. So we really ask the traditional leaders and our sectors to come forth and be part of the process. Do encourage the people to come through so that they know how to vote, because we cannot have successful elections without going through that aspect,” said Phungwayo.

handover and testing

He reiterated that the civic and voter education had to be concluded by April and that the EBC had already concluded the handover and testing of the past system (Elections Management System) because they were going to be using the EMS that they owned, but an upgraded one. He clarified that the relationship with the previous contractor had come to an end and they were looking at establishing a new relationship with a new partner, hopefully in April, for another five years. “All processes and support is needed in that end. The elections dates unfortunately will be worked on by the commission but we anticipate our secondary elections to be in September, which then says a month earlier we would have had our primary elections in August and our nominations in July. So we are really pressed for time,” he said.

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