CABINET has been forced to tackle bureaucratic bungling and systematic disenfranchisement of potential voters by the Registrar-General’s office countrywide, something which could result in thousands of people failing to vote and possibly swing the upcoming general elections in Zanu PF’s favour.
Report by Owen Gagare
Although thousands of people, mainly from the country’s uniformed forces, have easily registered to vote countrywide, ordinary citizens are finding it difficult to to do so, particularly in areas perceived to be MDC strongholds such as Matabeleland regions.
Potential voters are being turned away from registering en masse while at some centres, like Bulawayo, workers at the RG’s office are only allowing as few as 20 people to register per day.
Government sources said in February, for instance, only 600 people registered as potential new voters in Matabeleland South, while Matabeleland North had 900. Bulawayo registered 1 000 potential voters.
Harare had the highest voter registration turnout countrywide at 17 000, boosted by soldiers, police officers and their spouses who are being commandeered to register and told to vote Zanu PF.
The chaotic operations of the RG’s office resulted in ministers discussing the matter in two consecutive cabinet meetings, culminating in ministers tasking co-Ministers of Home Affairs, Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone with coming up with recommendations on how the RG’s office should work ahead of the crucial polls.
Makone, who made a presentation to cabinet on Wednesday last week, confirmed this, saying government would soon have a policy position on the matter.
“It’s an issue that is of concern,” Makone told the Zimbabwe Independent this week. “Cabinet has been dealing with this matter for the last two weeks and we have been given two weeks to come up with a policy position. We are working on the issue and it will again be deliberated in cabinet soon. The outcry in the countryside is reaching a crescendo that can’t be ignored. It’s a big issue that we are trying to rectify.”
Makone also confirmed reports that ordinary citizens were being turned away from registering at the RG’s office although members of the uniformed forces were being registered in droves. She said this was also discussed in cabinet.
In their deliberations, ministers across the political divide voiced concern at the operations of the RG’s offices, with some narrating ordeals they suffered at the hands of officials there, and frustrations people have endured to get services, including being registered as voters.
Ministers were also unhappy that despite the RG’s office collecting about US$1 million per week from its operations, people were still experiencing difficulties accessing birth certificates, national identity documents and passports, among other crucial documents needed in their day to day lives and to register as voters.
One government official said the turning away of potential voters was a deliberate ploy by the RG’s office to rig the elections. “We know that Zanu PF supporters, police officers and soldiers are being bused in to the RG’s offices to register but somehow the same office is not showing the same enthusiasm in registering ordinary members of the public. It appears to be a well-calculated move to disenfranchise potential voters because we all know where the loyalties of the RG (Tobaiwa Mudede) lie,” said the official.
“Besides members of the uniformed forces, you will also recall that officers from the RG’s office was in the last two years registering members of some apostolic sects as voters. The sects which were targeted have leaders who are sympathetic to Zanu PF and they have actually been campaigning at church gatherings and urging their people to register to vote for the party.”
Two days after last week’s cabinet deliberations, Mudede issued a statement urging people to register as voters, reminding them to bring necessary documents to avoid being turned away at his offices.
“Documents required for one to register as a voter are full original birth certificate for persons born in Zimbabwe together with national identity document (metal, polythene-synthetic or legible green waiting pass with holder’s photograph) or a valid Zimbabwean passport and proof of residence,” he said.
Disenfranchising voters by demanding proof of residence and other unnecessary things is viewed as one of the most trusted Zanu PF weapons of rigging votes. In the 2002 presidential election, Zanu PF was accused of rigging polls in Harare by reducing the number of polling stations while electoral officials were accused of conducting their duties slowly, resulting in congestion at polling stations. Some people failed to vote because of the congestion despite an extension of the voting exercise.
Besides, Zanu PF has deployed its functionaries at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to manage the elections and their outcomes. Previously, the party directly deployed army commanders and other loyalists to go and run elections.
Zec would be under the spotlight in the next elections after it bungled the 2008 presidential election by withholding the results for over a month, while allegedly fiddling with ballots to engineer a run-off to save Mugabe from what appeared to be certain defeat before he resorted to a brutal presidential run-off campaign for survival.