THE proposed introduction of ward voters’ rolls in next year’s harmonised elections requires a fresh registration exercise and massive fina
ncial, human and material resources, supported by an effective public awareness campaign, all of which may entail postponing the elections to avoid chaos, analysts have said.
The analysts said while the use of ward voters’ rolls was the practical way to ensure that the electorate voted for councillors in their wards, together with the legislative and presidential candidates, the new system could see the majority of the electorate failing to exercise their right as specific ward rolls were not yet in place while the delimitation exercise hadn’t even started.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which will be mandated to carry out voter registration and the delimitation of constituencies in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No 18 Bill, is expected to come up with 60 new parliamentary and 10 senatorial constituencies respectively, and new boundaries for urban and rural council wards.
Under the Bill, parliamentary constituencies will be increased from 150 to 210 while the senate’s directly elected members go up from 50 to 60 with six senators per province.
Presenting agreed committee stage amendments of the Bill to parliament last week, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa said: “The commission (ZEC), in determining the limits of House of Assembly constituencies, be empowered to ensure that no local authority ward falls into two or more House of Assembly constituencies.
“The point to note here is that we are introducing with this change a ward voters roll, a ward-specific voters roll. In other words, a voter can only vote in the ward in which he or she is resident and registered to vote.”
University of Zimbabwe political analyst Eldred Masunungure said in an interview last week that while voters could have registered for the polls in their constituencies — enabling them to elect legislative and presidential candidates — the introduction of ward voters rolls meant that they could only vote for candidates from specific wards.
“This will obviously require fresh registration to ensure that people vote for councillors where they stay. Such rolls with specific information on where one stays are not there yet,” he said.
“Given the timeframe within which the elections are supposed to take place and the fact that delimitation has not yet started, this will inconvenience the electorate. The introduction of ward voter rolls would need an extension of the voter registration exercise, coupled with a massive voter education campaign,” Masunungure said.
“It is against this background that I feel there is nothing significant in the adoption of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No 18 Bill by Zanu PF and the MDC.”
Masunungure said issues in the amendment were peripheral. He said the fundamental issue was the constitution itself and the setting up of credible electoral institutions and a fresh voters’ roll.
“The voters’ register is a very vital area and that must be investigated,” he said. “The current voters’ roll is full of ineligible people — ghost voters — and under such circumstances the outcome of elections cannot be deemed legitimate. This is an issue the MDC should be alert to. There should be an audit of the voters roll by all parties.”
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) concurred that the introduction of ward voters rolls would require a deliberate registration exercise as new boundaries of wards and constituencies were necessary.
Tsungai Kokerai, a Zesn official, said her organisation had also noted with concern the logistical problems which would arise from the introduction of ward voters rolls and was in the process of formulating recommendations for the authorities.
“That is one of the issues we have identified and we are going to make our submissions once the Bill becomes law,” said Kokerai. “At the moment I cannot comment much on the issue since the Bill is not yet law. But I agree that it’s an issue that needs to be addressed and we will make our submissions on that once the Bill is signed into law,” she said.
The senate approved the Bill this week. It is now awaiting President Robert Mugabe’s assent before it becomes law.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Harare teacher who said he has been a polling officer over the years, said the voters’ roll was arranged in alphabetical order and so long as one was registered, their names would appear and one should be allowed to vote.
He however noted that the
proposed system would entail a potential voter having to be ascertained whether he stays in a particular ward to be eligible to vote for a councillor.
“There can be a number of wards within one constituency,” said the teacher. “In the past, one would go to any polling station within a constituency and cast their vote for a parliamentary candidate. Under the proposed system, it means one will have to go to polling stations under a particular ward to vote for a councilor.
“Given the fact that the harmonised elections will be held in one day, I foresee a situation where most people will opt to vote for parliamentary and presidential candidates whose names appear in the usual voters’ roll,” he said.
“Although the name may appear in a roll at ward level, there would be need for verification on whether a potential voter is resident in that ward. So there could be need for a specific voter registration exercise to ensure residents are on specific ward voters rolls and I do not think this is feasible given the time left before the elections, unless they are postponed.”
He said the extension of the mobile voter registration exercise announced by the ZEC should be targeted at specific wards to help build up the envisaged ward voters’ rolls.
The teacher added that this could be achieved with the provision of adequate human, financial and material resources.
He emphasised the need for a vigorous voter education campaign involving all stakeholders to expedite the exercise, adding that registration venues should be increased in the wards and stay open till late to cater for the working class.
Monica Makonyonga, who recently re-located to Dzivaresekwa in Harare from Bulawayo, said she wanted to re-register now that the exercise had been extended.
“It’s always easier to register during mobile exercises than going to the registrar’s offices especially when you go to work. If there are mobile units, one can register during weekends at the various venues,” said Makonyonga, who had registered in Babourfields in Bulawayo.
Zesn acknowledged that there was a lot of movement of people from one place to another which could result in some not being able to vote.
The ZEC recently announced that it would extend the mobile voter registration exercise but it has not yet re-deployed staff or publicised the venues and times.
Efforts to get clarification on how the ZEC would come up with the proposed ward voters rolls and handle related issues were fruitless at the time of going to press despite submission of written questions to the commission.