The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has fired warning shots that it will not spare anyone who contravenes the electoral law, although it has softened up by reminding the citizenry of some of the common offences in the electoral process.
The counsel comes amid several flaws during the last phases that have seen the suspects being convicted even though some of them advanced ignorance as their defense.
MEC Head of Media and Public Relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa conceded this week that during the past four phases several incidences have occurred whereby people have found themselves on the wrong side of the law.
“We all know that ignorance of the law is no defense, therefore, there is need to remind each other of some of the electoral offenses so that we can avoid being found on the wrong side of the law,” Mwafulirwa hinted.
The Head of Media and Public Relations explained that it is an offence to give false information so that you are allowed to register as a voter.
“If you are underage and present false information that shows you are of age to register, you can be arrested for an electoral offence,” he said.
Those who are not above 18 or will not have attained the age of 18 on the voting day, May 20, 2014 are not supposed to register otherwise should they attempt to cheat, the law will catch up with them, MEC has warned.
Mwafulirwa has also indicated that it is a criminal offence to register more than once, warning that the system used by Malawi Electoral Commission has a capacity to detect multiple registrants.
It has been observed that some are tempted to innocently register more than once just because they lost their certificate and want to have a replacement so that they can still exercise their right to vote.
“But this has ended up with people arrested for multiple registration offence, and even though some give innocent reasons that they lost the certificate and wanted a replacement, it has not a reason enough to exonerate the offence of multiple registrations.
“Otherwise, if you have lost your certificate you need to present your issue to the centre you registered during voter verification and the registration supervisor will assist you with a replacement voter certificate,” advises Mwafulirwa
Experience has shown that there are some people who for political, religious or any other reason prevent eligible voters from registering, but the Commission warns that it is an offence to do so.
He said: “Everyone including parents should be cautious on this. If parents or any other person may decide to threaten or intimidate their children from registering, they should be forewarned that it is an offence, just as it is with inciting disturbance at a registration centre.
“A registration centre needs to be free from violence as violence may scare others from coming to register.”
On this, the Commission has been conscious as it places police officers. In addition to ensuring that materials are safe, the deployed police also make sure that registration is done in a peaceful environment.
MEC has also clarified that in line with the offence of selling or buying a voter certificate both the buyer and the seller are liable to prosecution, emphasizing that a vote is a precious right as such it should not be given value of any amount of money or material.
On safety, MEC informs that general public that it is ones responsibility to keep a voter registration certificate, and that no one should be cheated to surrender the voter certificate for safe keeping.
“If you come across anyone intimidating or coercing a person or a certain group to surrender their certificates, for whatever reason, do not hesitate to report such people to the police as it is an offence to be found in possession of registration certificates of which you are not the rightful owner,” he advised.
According to the Malawi Electoral Commission, the offences are so serious and attract a fine of up to K500, 000 or a two-year sentence in default.
The registration of eligible voters enters fifth phase covering constituencies in Mangochi Township, and those in the districts of Mangochi, Ntcheu along with Dedza South, North and East constituencies.
The exercise, which is part of the process for the May 20 2014 tripartite elections, begun in July and has been split in 10 phases, due to availability of limited resources, although the Commission which says it will administer the elections in a credible, free and fair manner, has also disclosed that the registration will wind up earlier that the planned January 4 2014.
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