Rescheduling of swearing-in of poll agents provides relief

24Oct 2020
The Guardian
Rescheduling of swearing-in of poll agents provides relief

JUST as some leading officials of opposition political parties were expressing misgivings about the organisation of the General Election mid next week, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) moved to extend by three days the period set for swearing in poll agents.

NEC director Dr Wilson Mahera told the media that the commission has considered geographical challenges, as some places are hard to be reached as scheduled.

This assertion went in tandem with a vow that NEC opted for an extension to ensure that all parties had all the required poll agents, which is basically what party leaders were demanding, after having discerned the gaps.

But there was a note of regret on the part of the director of elections, as his office has traditionally been known as. He intimated that it has been difficult for election supervisors to reach and swear in all election agents, so the commission sought remedies in keeping with provisions of election legislation.

That is how NEC moved to extend time for supervisors to reach poll centres in remote places and swear in agents for those centres well before the polling starts, so that everyone can get ready, without confusion on the roles.

That is precisely what was coming up earlier: that the role of political party agents was being pruned, pared to a minimum as in several places there was an apparent lack of readiness for the swearing-in of agents already present.

This expression of intention to swear in all agents needed for the proper running of the polls as per legislation in place implies that hesitant returning officers and supervisors who weren’t sure how intensely the law and regulations were going to be followed should now be clear on the matter.

There was a minimum of hesitation on their part, in a sense given the diminished role of election observers in the civic polls late last year. It was by and large a one-party affair as many opposition contestants were already disqualified, and the main opposition parties opted to fold up and leave – needing no observers later.

It would therefore not be surprising if those in charge of election organisation in the various districts and constituencies are still warped in the civic polls mood and are anxious to see what signals are sent from NEC headquarters as to how the regulation on election observation should be conducted.

Thus, the move by the NEC director to provide clarification on the matter is helpful as it raises expectations that the regulations will actually be observed.

It means that there will be no discreet directives as to how the polls should be handled, contrary to what the director has explained, as that may lead to widespread confusion.

Election law stipulates that agents representing political parties must be sworn in, given access to polling stations and be provided with results declaration forms.

Director Mahera reiterated as much, noting that 19 political parties with permanent registration are participating in this year’s polls and so there will be an increase in the number of poll agents.

This may also have contributed to delaying the swearing-in, as it is also clear that parties have uneven resources and the presence of agents could be patchy, at most.

Participating parties may also need arrangements where a few have a common observer where the others don’t have sufficient presence, as not all participating parties have cadres in all constituencies. Indeed, there is logic in the measure the electoral commission has taken by rescheduling the swearing-in of the poll agents.

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