Dar es Salaam. Political stakeholders have urged the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to come out and reassure the public whether the voter register will be updated in accordance to the law.
Speaking to Political Platform on various occasions stakeholders have said there are growing fears that the updating of the Permanent National Voters’ Register might not take place if doesn’t it might pose some legal complications to the 2020 General Election.
Section 15 (5) of the National Elections Act [Cap 343] requires the electoral commission to review the Permanent National Voters’ Register twice; between a period commencing immediately after the General Election and the date preceding the nomination day for the next General Election.
Nec had indicated that it was about to start the updating process and had started recruiting temporary staff for that purpose.
But, political stakeholders expressed concerns that the suspension of the process to recruit temporary staff for the process has put the whole process in limbo. A letter issued last Thursday, and signed by NEC director of elections, Mr Athumani Kihamia shows that the process has been suspended until further notice and no reason was given.
However when contacted by Political Platform to shed more light on the implications of the decision on updating the voter register Mr Kihamia was somehow defensive.
“Nobody is forced to provide reasons whenever he/she decides to postpone his activities. The public will be informed through a similar method whenever the process is resumed,” he said in a telephone interview.
While Tanzania is expected to hold local government elections this year under the supervision of the President’s Office Regional Administrations and Local Government (PO-RALG) on behalf of NEC, next year the country will hold the General Election to elect the president, parliamentarians and councillors.
But, in a quick rejoinder, political science lecturer at Ruaha Catholic University (Rucu), Prof Gaudans Mpangala asked the electoral body to come out clean regarding the matter.
“NEC should come out clean and tell Tanzanians why the exercise is delayed. The commission should also provide answers why recruitment of people who would upgrade the document has been suspended,” he said.
Chadema secretary general, Dr Vincent Mashinji said it was obvious the upgrading process was delayed by lack of funds.
“NEC has no money for the process and the government has taken election issues so lightly. Therefore, I’m not surprised with NEC decisions,” he said.
He said the process was important because it accommodated citizens who have attained the voting age. Dr Mashinji expressed disappointment that nothing has been done since the last General Election of 2015 in terms of upgrading the voter register, as the law demands.
“The government should find money for the process and prepare conducive democratic environment for the forthcoming General Election,” he said.
But, ACT Wazalendo Ideology, Publicity and Public Communications secretary, Mr Ado Shaibu said the reason for failing to update the voter registration since 2015 as the law demands was not the shortage of funds but the failure to see the importance of the exercise.
“NEC has carried numerous by-elections since 2016, at times spending billions of shillings for a single constituency, the argument that the commission can’t upgrade the register due to shortage of funds does not hold water,” he said.
He said the commission might not meet legal demands to upgrade the document two times as required by the law, noting 2020 wasn’t the right time for the exercise.
“In 2020, the commission will have many activities amidst hot political atmosphere, bearing in mind that stakeholders including political parties would like to pass through the document,” he said.
He called on the electoral body to accelerate the process, capture citizens who have attained the voting age and reduce the 2020 burden.
Prof Mpangala added, “Surely a country that has been boosting a monthly revenue collection amounting to over Sh1 trillion cannot fail to fund such an important process!”
According to him, failure to carry out the process will deny the youth an opportunity to participate in future elections and create room for phantom voters.
When contacted, a senior CCM officer who asked for anonymity said, “I need enough time before commenting on the issue.”
Some analysts say the upgrading of the voter register might be complicated by the fact that Tanzania now uses biometric voter registration. The process is rigorous and technology intensive requiring a thoroughly trained staff and technical support. Not only is it expensive it is also delicate.
Failure to upgrade the register this year could increase the burden to Nec next year.