24 August 2008
EBC caught pants down
By MAKHOSI MAGONGO
NKHANINI—Ill-preparedness of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) was exposed yesterday when its Commissioners were forced to ‘adjourn’ Primary Elections as a result of an inventory of printing error cases, and failure to deliver ballot papers at the correct polling stations.
The EBC was caught ill- prepared in that they only realised towards noon the magnitude of the problems, which included:
l Non-arrival of ballot papers at various polling stations.
l Errors on ballot papers: some nominees not appearing, while others appearing but with errors.
l Last minute changing of polling stations, resulting in confusion.
l No voter registration provided for scrutiny, as required by law.
l Printing of ballot papers done on the day of Primary Elections.
When it became clear that many presiding and returning officers were reporting irregularities, some of the EBC Commissioners and members of the Secretariat met to gather thoughts, and subsequently resolved that an additional day was needed for the conclusion of the chaotic elections.
The number of chiefdoms that were affected, including those where voting did not take place, had not been made known by the EBC established by the time of going to print, at about 11pm.
So serious were the irregularities—in particular printing errors—that some of the returning officers spent quite some time at Apollo Printers premises, waiting for fresh and accurate ballot papers. Among those found at Apollo were CTA Boss Polycarp Dlamini, re-appointed PS Andreas Mathabela and at one point, EBC Deputy Chairman Mzwandile Fakudze.
Fakudze declined to entertain questions from journalists at Apollo, but suggested that he should be followed to Nkhanini. None of the officers were prepared to explain the cause of the problem. However, Mathabela and Dlamini only highlighted that the problems were not homogeneous, but varying.
Upon realising that the elections would turn chaotic, the EBC announced the adjournment.
As a result, some voters in chiefdoms accepted the adjournment, while others declared that they would cause trouble if their ballot boxes were tampered with. For instance, at Pigg’s Peak, by the time the election time had come, hundreds were still waiting outside the police station, demanding nothing but entry. At Mayiwane, residents were of the understanding that voting had been concluded, however, when an announcement to the effect that voting would proceed today, some residents said they would not allow this.
In his statement—which contains half-truths about the real causes of the adjournment—the EBC Chairman, Chief Gija Dlamini, said the Commission had made the decision to adjourn on the strength of Section 12 of the Elections Order No.2 of 1992.
"It has been noted that towards the close of the polling day, a lot of people are still waiting for their chance to cast their vote, and that by 5pm they would still have not got the chance to all cast their votes," he stated.
"It has also been noted that after the printing of the ballot papers, some ballot papers for places that share the same area name such as Ekuphumuleni which is in Hhohho and Shiselweni and Mlindazwe which is at Gege, Mhlambanyatsi and Lavumisa, have been mistakenly or accidentally packed together. This resulted in ballot papers for the other area arriving at the appropriate place very late.
"The Elections and Boundaries Commission, therefore, announce that the taking of the poll is adjourned today and has been extended to continue tomorrow. We thank you and may God bless you all," adds the chief.
However, the statement ignores the fact that in some of the chiefdoms, no papers were delivered. In other chiefdoms, there were no pictures of candidates on the ballot papers while other ballot papers had pictures of people who are not from that particular chiefdom.
The postponement, according to insiders, is expected to eat deeper into the coffers of the EBC as they are expected to pay for extra days while printing costs are also expected to rise dramatically.
The chairman has already issued an announcement on national radio, where he also states that counting of votes will not proceed this morning as it was initially planned, but would wait for the completion of voting.
The postponements do not only affect voters and the EBC, but they will also have financial implications for some nominated people who used their own funds to hire buses to ferry their supporters to and from their respective homes and/or communities.
However, some people had used their own money, and have registered disappointment at being turned back. Others, mostly migrant workers, had taken day off from their various workplaces to return home to cast their vote, but will be forced to either extend their stay or return to work without going behind a ballot box.
This is the second time that the EBC encounters problems in the elections process, as was the case during nominations. coupled with the hasty announcement of nominations dates, people in some chiefdoms were confused about the actual place for nominations. The Commission has also failed to get elections observers from the EU for the Secondary Elections.