US embassy cable - 04LILONGWE124

GENERALLY ACCEPTABLE VOTER REGISTRATION

Identifier: 04LILONGWE124
Wikileaks: View 04LILONGWE124 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Lilongwe
Created: 2004-02-17 15:50:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: PGOV KDEM MI Elections Political
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LILONGWE 000124 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV, KDEM, MI, Elections, Political 
SUBJECT: GENERALLY ACCEPTABLE VOTER REGISTRATION 
 
REF: LILONGWE 1202 
 
SUMMARY 
------- 
1. (SBU) Although the Malawi Electoral Commission's (MEC) 
inadequate preparations led to logistical difficulties during 
voter registration, we judge the exercise to have been 
generally acceptable, despite shortages of materials at many 
registration centers.  The MEC has reported that 900,000 new 
voters registered and 2 million verified their prior 
registrations during the exercise.  Mission observers visited 
over 200 registration centers in one-fourth of Malawi's 
parliamentary districts.  We generally found registration 
centers to be well-organized and run by competent staffs, 
though they lacked forms and film necessary to complete the 
range of registration activities.  Logistical difficulties 
and known problems with the current voter rolls will have to 
be addressed by the MEC to ensure that May's polls run 
smoothly.  END SUMMARY. 
 
THE MEC'S NUMBERS 
----------------- 
2. (U) At the end of the voter registration exercise (January 
5-28), which was twice-extended because of low voter turnout 
and a lack of materials, the MEC reported that 900,000 new 
voters registered and 2 million verified their information. 
In addition, 78,000 deceased voters were removed from the 
rolls.  Commenting on the registration logistics, the MEC 
acknowledged that many centers did not have adequate 
replacement voter cards for voters who had lost their cards 
or enough film to take photos of new voters.  The MEC 
supplied centers with additional forms and film in the latter 
half of the registration period to deal with most of these 
complaints.  They have also announced that the centers will 
re-open for one week in April to encourage more voter 
verifications and new registrations.  (NOTE: Voter cards are 
not required to vote.) 
 
3. (SBU) The MEC has acknowledged to the donor community that 
there remain some issues with the voter rolls that need to be 
addressed prior to the election.  Although the MEC estimates 
the total number of legal registered voters to be 5.8 
million, the voter rolls currently exceed more than 6 
million, and so the MEC plans to "clean up" the rolls in 
April by removing double registrants and deceased persons and 
by processing transfers.  (COMMENT: Our estimations point to 
the need for a more involved clean-up.  With a population of 
11.6 million and a median age of 16.4 years, we roughly 
calculate that there can be no more than 5.1 million people 
who could legally register to vote.  And with roughly 260,000 
people dying per annum in Malawi, the current roll could have 
as many as 790,000 deceased voters on it, given that the 
rolls were last cleaned in 2000. END COMMENT.) 
 
WHAT WE OBSERVED 
---------------- 
4. (SBU) Over the 23-day period, the Mission sent out 
observers to over 200 registration centers in 45 
parliamentary districts.  Reports from US Mission observers 
-- similar to those of other missions -- indicate that the 
registration centers were largely well-organized and run by 
competent staffs.  Political parties and local NGOs monitors 
were in the centers and appeared to understand their role to 
scrutinize the process. 
 
5. (SBU) Observers did however note the inadequate supply of 
registration forms and film and the overall low participation 
of voters.  In addition, observers noted frustration amongst 
registration officials about unclear guidelines and 
impractical procedures for transferring a voter's 
registration from one constituency to another.  Finding most 
registration centers in order, US Mission observers judged 4% 
of the centers visited to have "serious problems" that would 
likely "affect the overall integrity of the registration 
process," and the problems were uniformly related to the 
inadequate supply of materials. 
 
THE LOCAL RESPONSE 
------------------ 
6. (U) Midway through the exercise, local NGOs began 
releasing press statements evaluating the registration 
exercise.  Most of the statements noted the lack of 
materials, the low voter turnout, and the MEC's slow response 
to problems at registration centers.  A few organizations 
also commented on specific incidents related to poorly 
organized centers or to political party rallies disrupting 
registration activities.  To address these concerns, the MEC 
extended the original 14-day registration period by 9 days. 
Some NGOs and political parties have also expressed their 
concern about the MEC's ability to handle polling day 
logistics. 
 
7. (U) The donor community (including the US, the UK, the EU, 
UNDP, Norway, and Germany) also released a press statement on 
the registration process.  The statement included the above 
mentioned observations and counseled the MEC to intensify its 
efforts to deal with the registration exercise's shortcomings 
and to prepare more adequately for polling day. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
8. (SBU) Recognizing the MEC's logistical difficulties and 
inadequate preparations for the registration process, we find 
the overall process to have been generally acceptable. 
Throughout the process, the MEC made genuine efforts to 
replenish form and film supplies and to address other 
concerns as they became apparent.  That being said, the MEC 
still faces the task of cleaning up the voter rolls and 
improving its performance for the actual polls.  Since the 
vote is a one-day exercise, the MEC will have to ensure an 
adequate number of ballots and iron out the administrative 
glitches that dogged registration if it does not want to 
compromise the polling exercise on May 18. 
BROWNING 

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