STAKEHOLDERS have expressed concern over the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) capacity to run the March 29 harmonised polls in one day due to
logistical problems, poor infrastructure and inadequate voter education on the new ward boundaries.
Hopes of a possible postponement of the polls were last week shattered after the proclamation of February 8 and March 29 as the nomination and polling dates of the harmonised polls by President Robert Mugabe.
The inspection of the voters’ roll begins today and ends on February 7.
The Registrar-General’s Office (RG) is responsible for compiling and printing the voters’ roll under the supervision of the ZEC.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), opposition politicians, individuals and government officials said the lack of resources and voter education would affect the smooth running of the elections.
However, ZEC director of public relations Shupikai Mashereni said the commission had made the necessary logistical arrangements for the elections.
He conceded though that ZEC had not done enough on voter education and would, with effect from today, step up awareness campaigns through the media and that voter educators would be deployed countrywide.
Mashereni, who was not in a position to explain what the commission had covered so far, said the ZEC had procured enough material for the elections, such as ballot boxes, indelible ink, polling booths, fuel, vehicles, tents and gas lamps, among others.
He added that the ZEC had recruited staff from various government departments to be complemented by teachers as polling officers.
Mashereni could not be drawn to reveal the number of polling officers and stations needed for the elections, saying that would be determined after consultation with contesting candidates.
However, stakeholders argued that the majority of the electorate would be prejudiced due to several logistical factors.
Zesn national director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava said the one week set aside for the inspection of the voters’ roll was not enough following the introduction of new wards and constituencies.
“This is the shortest voters’ roll inspection period I have come to know. Over the years when elections were not harmonised, inspection would take between three and four weeks,” she said.
“Given the magnitude of this year’s polls where there are four candidates and an increased number of constituencies and wards with new boundaries which people are not yet aware of, one would have expected a longer period.”
She pointed out the working class in urban areas would not have time to inspect the rolls between 7am and 6pm, while possible extension of the closing time at the inspection centres to cater for such people would probably be affected by frequent power cuts.
The Zesn director said there was need for vigorous door to door awareness campaigns by the voter educators in rural areas where people had no access to the media.
She said the decline in newspaper circulations and the ever rising cost of newspapers also affected information dissemination even in urban areas, hence the need for more voter educators in both urban and rural areas.
Her concerns on voter education come amid revelations that only two voter educators would be deployed per ward owing to financial limitations.
Sources within the ZEC said there were instructions to operate within the budget allocated for the elections.
A local government official said areas hit by floods like Muzarabani and the Lowveld where roads were badly damaged by heavy rains would be difficult to access.
Commenting on this concern, Mashereni said ZEC had since liaised with the Airforce of Zimbabwe to provide helicopters should the need arise.
“We have air transport in place for such places. We will also ensure early deployment of staff and delivery of material to these areas. We are aware of these places and our officials have put contingent plans in place,” he said.
Opposition MDC (Morgan Tsvangirai formation) spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said his party was concerned about the way ZEC was preparing for the polls, adding that they had not received a copy of the delimitation report.
“The whole thing is being done secretly by Zanu PF. The report was tabled in parliament on a ‘take note’ basis when in actual fact parliament was supposed to have debated it,” Chamisa claimed.
“That is why we have always expressed concern over the way in which the Zanu PF regime is doing things. It looks like the report is just for them alone and it is tantamount to expecting us to write an exam without a syllabus.”
He said that was one reason why his party has been advocating a reconstitution of the ZEC to ensure integrity, transparency and credibility.
The two MDC formations are scheduled to meet tomorrow to decide on whether or not to participate in the polls.
Most people interviewed felt that the voters’ roll inspection period was not adequate and should be extended to two weeks.
“I registered at Market Square during the mobile registration exercise but I am not yet aware of my new ward and which polling station I will cast my vote at. I hope to check on that over the weekend as I will be at work during the week,” an Avondale resident said.
“I think this exercise has started rather too late and I foresee a lot of people being turned away at the polling stations. There is need for more publicity on the ward boundaries so that those who fail to inspect, at least know where they should go.”
Mashereni however appealed to people who registered and those who did not to inspect the rolls during the inspection period.
“I need to reiterate the importance of this inspection exercise because these elections will be ward-based and people need to know their new wards where they will cast their votes,” Mashereni said. “There shall also be the final voter registration for these elections and those who did not register should take advantage of this period.”
Contacted for comment on the provision of security for the polls, police spokesman Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka said the force would mobilise adequate personnel despite a report to the parliamentary portfolio committee on Defence and Home Affairs late last year by deputy commissioner Levy Sibanda that recruitment to boost staff was affected by lack of funds.
“I am not worried by the figures you are talking about. All I can tell you is that we will endeavour to provide enough officers to cover the polls,” he said.
Earlier reports indicated that the Zimbabwe Republic Police needed to boost its manpower from about 25 000 to 50 000 to cover the elections but recruitment during the last quarter of last year had been affected by lack of funds.
At least four police officers are expected at each polling station.