Disputed elections results: Biometrics future of voting

ZIMBABWE appears to be headed for another disputed poll after outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and senior MDC-T officials called for a press conference yesterday where they categorically stated that they will reject results even in areas they won.

Report by Herbert Moyo

Tsvangirai told journalists that the July 31 elections were a huge farce and will not accept its outcome citing poll rigging and manipulation of the electoral system.

“We therefore call for Sadc and the AU (African Union) audit teams to look into this process, in particular the voters’ roll, the ballots and the manner in which the whole process was conducted. In our view these elections do not meet the Sadc, AU and international standards for a credible, legitimate, free and fair election,” Tsvangirai said.

“These elections were a huge farce. Their credibility has been marred by administrative and legal violations which affect the legitimacy of the outcome. The elections does not meet Sadc guidelines. They are a sham election that do not reflect the will of the people.”

Tsvangirai met with the chair of the AU observer mission, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and head of the Sadc observer mission, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Mmembe where he lodged his complaints over the credibility of the elections.

“The message we have given is that these are not credible elections. They do not reflect the will of the people of Zimbabwe. The elections have been heavily manipulated. In our view, the outcome of these elections is illegitimate. But more importantly, the shoddy manner in which it has been conducted and the consequent illegitimacy of the result will plunge this country into a serious crisis.”

The MDC-T’s concerns over the credibility of the elections come against a backdrop of claims by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) that it was capable of holding free, credible and fair polls.

The major bone of contention surrounding this year’s elections has been the voters’ roll which remained shambolic until polling day despite spirited efforts by the MDC-T for the cleaning-up of the register.

The controversy surrounding the polls calls for a radical transformation of the entire electoral system which has fallen behind regional and world standards.

That transformation should begin with restructuring Zec secretariat and the Registrar-General (RG)’s Office, which have been fingered in previous electoral frauds.

Local think-tank Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) says that although new commissioners were appointed during the government of national unity (GNU), their independence is compromised by the fact that they serve under the same “partisan and militarised Zec secretariat that presided over the 2008 sham election”. Individuals like Joyce Kazembe, Lovemore Sekeramayi and Utoile Silaigwana are still on the Zec secretariat in various portfolios despite accusations of military and Zanu PF links and sympathies.

“Their continued involvement in the management of elections casts aspersions on Zec’s ability to preside over free and fair elections,” ZDI wrote in its study titled Zimbabwe Electoral Commission: Can it Deliver Free Polls?

Perhaps new personnel will also be willing to transform the electoral system by applying modern technology to the issue of voter registration and related activities. Zec and RG Tobaiwa Mudede’s aversion to modern technology has seen them failing to accomplish the simple task of providing electronic voters’ roll preferring hard copies which they availed a day before the elections.

It boggles the mind how Zec officials believed just one day to inspect the voters’ roll would be enough to allay long-held concerns about disenfranchisement of urban voters generally perceived to support the two MDC parties and ghost voters.

There have been widespread complaints about a shambolic voters’ roll — names of long deceased people still appear and details of some voters are either missing or incorrect. Not surprisingly, the MDCs have both alleged that there is rampant disenfranchisement of otherwise eligible voters and ghost voters who are used to rig on behalf of Zanu PF.

Zec needs to operate in an independent and transparent manner free from political party or external influences. Apart from the alleged military and Zanu PF connections of its secretariat, its reputation has been further tarnished by reports that it worked with a shadowy Israeli intelligence company Nikuv International Projects on voter registration producing a deeply flawed voters’ roll in which two million potential voters aged under 30 reportedly went unregistered.

The Research and Advocacy Unit (Rau) also found that a further one million people on the roll are deceased, 63 constituencies have more registered voters than actual inhabitants and 41 constituencies deviate from the average number of voters per constituency by more than the permitted 20%.

Nikuv, which has been involved in Zimbabwe’s electoral processes since 2000 at the behest of Zanu PF, already has a tainted reputation, having been dragged to court in Zambia in 1996 by the United National Independence Party and Liberal Progressive Front on allegations of tampering with voter registration to rig polls.

In addition, the shortcomings identified by Rau could also be eliminated or mitigated if Zec embraces a biometric voters’ roll.

According to University of Birmingham-trained electronics engineer Samuel Chindaro, biometrics involves the computerised automatic identification of people based on physical characteristics like face, fingerprints and behavioural characteristics such as voice and signature.

“Biometric identifiers cannot be shared, misplaced, and they intrinsically represent the individual’s identity,” said Chindaro, adding this would ensure that only the correct person votes.

The benefits in terms of ease and speed of registering are well illustrated by the example of Bolivia where five million people were enrolled in 2009 within a period of 76 days by 3 000 enrollment stations, increasing the voters’ roll by a whopping two million people.

Adopting biometrics will go a long way not only in accommodating most of the aspiring voters, but also clear all long deceased persons from the roll. In the past there have been problems with the voter registration exercise and the voters’ roll.

Without a real transformation of the entire electoral system, elections in Zimbabwe will continue to be a contested terrain. Some of the issues like change of personnel at the helm of Zec as well as the adoption of biometric voter registration are simple enough when there is political will and could go a long way in mitigating the contestations around elections results.

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