We need a clean, credible voter register

We need a clean, credible voter register

The current voter registration database of Lesotho emanates from the 1998 and 2002 registration campaigns. It is not only outdated but also derelict in terms of its authenticity and credibility. Its integrity is also highly questionable. Since 2011, political parties have been on record raising concerns about the validity of the database. Yet nothing much has been done to clean the register.

The IEC appears to be reluctant to help the process of drafting a law to aid this process. The government has also been complicit in.
In 2012/2013, the then government refused to provide funds for this exercise. Similarly, after the 2015 election to date, the IEC has been reluctant to come up with a draft Bill to aid this process.
The IEC has vehemently argued that the database is clean. But most SADC countries that have adopted the continuous voter registration system always update their registers after every election and towards every general election.
In Lesotho, the IEC has been piling names on the roll without discarding the names of dead voters. A derelict voter database has the potential to create unnecessary electoral conflict if immediate measures are not taken to address the matter.
The current IEC database

What is most disconcerting about the current database is that Lesotho has more than three registered voter sets; that is people who were registered in 1998, 2002 and after 2012 and currently.
There are those who continue to register on a daily basis as and when registration is required by the IEC. This is because Lesotho follows an open registration regime, commonly known as “continuous registration”.

The challenge for this method is that under international best practices a new registration programme must resume after every election whether it’s a national or local government election. The IEC database is currently not reliable because voters have three different cards. That is, the 1998 cards, the 2002 cards and the current cards.

This means that cleaning of data and removal of deceased voters cannot be effected efficiently because they each require different computer packages compatible with each system.

It has now become a practice that after each election the voter database is discarded and voters are registered afresh.
It must be recalled that in July 2011, the IEC engaged a consultant by the name of Professor R.W. Johnson who thoroughly examined and analysed its database. He recommended that, Lesotho should embark on a periodic registration regime after the 2012 elections.
Normally after every five years a new registration programme should ensue. All registered political parties agreed with this international approach and convention.

It is now almost six years after that recommendation and nothing has been done to adopt the method. Under this system no computer application such as the Automated Fingerprinted Identification System (AFIS) can be able to clean the current database.
This database has created more challenges mostly when it comes to registration of voters and their transfers. The question is why is the IEC insisting that Lesotho go for the local government elections with such a derelict database?

Voter registration challenges
The current and most reputable website regarding election registration is the Ace-project. It states that, “Voter registration establishes the eligibility of individuals to vote”.

This is done where the database is clean and is monitored by political parties and is continuously updated. Unlike in Lesotho, Section 26 of the Malawian Parliamentary and Presidential Elections, mandated political parties to monitor the registration and updating of voter registration.
This means that the voter registration challenges that exist in Lesotho cannot be obtained in Malawi. In fact, section 27 (1) of the Malawian legislation states that “every political party contesting an election shall have the right to monitor the registration of voters and shall do so through its designated representatives assigned to a specified registration centre . . . ”

The current situation where voters are dispersed to different polling stations on voting day in Lesotho cannot be found in Malawi because all voters per voting station are known to all party agents, unlike in a situation where some voters with voter’s cards are not even known in a constituency.
It is common cause that in Lesotho, having a voting card qualifies you to vote irrespective whether you are known in the constituency or not.
This challenge can be remedied if the law is amended like that of Malawi whereby it’s mandatory for each voter to be known at his or her polling station.

The current system of registration whereby voters’ transfers are not monitored by political parties in Lesotho has raised questions about the integrity of the voter register. This has negatively affected confidence and trust levels between the IEC and political parties.
Institutionalisation of generic addresses

The other major challenge of this database stemmed from the legislation itself, mostly section 4 (1) (b) of the National Assembly Electoral Act, 2011 where it states that “A person who qualifies as an elector in section 5, must register as an elector in that constituency, of which he or she ordinarily originate, resides or works there”.

The section also says that the person must have stayed in that area for not less than 60 days. But unfortunately this section does not say how these qualifications must be tested more especially where the IEC has institutionalized a system of generic addresses. This system has made it close to impossible to trace, identify and verify voters from each polling station.

The system of providing voters with generic addresses is prone to abuse. For instance, the voters’ roll in Lesotho gives your full names, sex, card number, birthdate and a village. That is all.

For example, Thabo Peipi, Village Ha Teisi, Thatho Setulo, village Ha Phakiso and so on (names imaginary). The question is how do you ascertain that these voters actually qualify in accordance with the above legal criteria? Where exactly does this voter live? Can he or she be verified as a voter of that particular village? The IEC must be more creative to address this challenge.

The challenge is that any voter can ask to be transferred to any place even if he does not meet the above criteria. This is precisely because the IEC officers don’t have a criteria to verify his residence apart from the individual providing a generic address.

Similarly, section 5 (1) (C) of Local Government Election Act, 42 of 1998 says that “a voter must have been a resident in Lesotho for a continuous period of two months immediately before registration as a voter”.

Surely these two sections if not amended can be easily be manipulated by maverick politicians. In fact, section 2 (b) states that, “the voter’s residential address or where he or she has no permanent residential address, the address of his or her business or place of employment” must be written.

This section is even more wanting in content and in verifying the permanent address of the voter. Like in the National Assembly Electoral Act above it can be manipulated. My suspicion is that this manipulation is already going on.

Since the 2012 elections, it was clear that the IEC should have discontinued registering voters using generic addresses. This practice is not only wrong but is a threat to free and fair elections.

In a similar ruling about generic addresses in March last year, the Electoral Court in South Africa, Johannesburg, stated that, “A generic address, whether that of an informal settlement, such as Crossroads in Cape Town or Bester’s Camp in Durban, or that of an upmarket suburb, such as Constantia in Cape Town or Morningside in Durban, is simply insufficient for this purpose”.

The Constitutional court directed that the elections chief administrator be obliged to register the voters in the voting district in which they were ordinarily resident with specific addresses for verification purposes.

The IEC administrator must ensure that voters are accurately placed within the correct voting districts. Failure to ascertain a voter’s correct specific address and place of residence on the part of the commission is a serious violation of the electoral Act and the South African constitution.

Conclusion
It is very important for the IEC to discontinue the current system and practice of providing generic addresses. This system is prone to abuse and manipulation that can create unnecessary electoral conflict and national instability.
Furthermore, it is imperative for the IEC to urgently submit to the Minister responsible draft legislation to get rid of the current derelict database of 1998/2002.

This database does not serve the interests of Lesotho. It would therefore be wrong to insist on going to elections with this derelict database that does not even give a clear indication as to how many registered voters are there and how many deceased have been removed from the database.
It is inconceivable how the IEC can continue to manage elections with such an outdated voter register. Every electoral commission prides itself by running elections with a clean, credible database.

l The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not of thepost.

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