AS general elections draw closer, Zanu PF and other political parties, mainly the MDC-T, are locked in political combat over a series of issues ranging from political violence, involvement of security service chiefs in politics and electoral issues, democratic reforms, poll dates and now the voters’ roll.
Report by Brian Chitemba
Internecine fights over the voters’ roll exploded into open conflict this week, with senior Zanu PF officials, including politburo member and State Security minister Sydney Sekeramayi, coming in the public to accuse the MDC-T of registering voters illegally.
The MDC-T has always charged that Zanu PF uses voter registration and attendant fraud to manipulate the electoral process.
Other parties, including the MDC, have also been complaining about potential vulnerabilities in the electoral system and the integrity of electoral administration processes in Zimbabwe.
Political parties met with Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) officials on voter registration and the voters’ roll as conflict over the issue intensified. Some civil society leaders have been arrested over claims of fraudulent voter registration activities.
Cabinet was also forced to deal with the issue, with co-Home Affairs minister, Theresa Makone, this week announcing a raft of measures designed to facilitate smooth voter registration.
The registration of voters and their registers is a problem the world over. In January, after his re-election, United States President Barack Obama emphasised the need to modernise the US electoral system.
A Bill to do just that was introduced by the civil rights hero Representative John Lewis — who knows a thing or two about how to expand democracy.
It was said such a reform would cost less than the current US system — because computers are cheaper than piles of paper, while marking a paradigm shift on how voters were registered. It would also curb the potential for fraud and error on voters’ rolls. The biggest problems in the US stem from an outdated voter registration system rife with errors as it relies on a blizzard of paper records. The voters’ rolls in the US contained millions of dead people, countless duplicates and inaccuracies.
This is the same problem Zimbabwe is also facing as its voters’ roll is shambolic, which has long been contentious and was originally part of the reforms envisaged under the Global Political Agreement (GPA), although later dropped.
It has been suggested transparency and accountability in the election processes would be enhanced by utilising a biometric voters’ roll in which there is computerised automatic identification of people based on how they look (physical characteristics, eg fingerprints and face), and behavioural characteristics such as voice and signature, but this has been resisted by Zanu PF which prefers the chaotic trail of paper to a computerised system.
Mugabe and Zanu PF have been accused by civil society, MDC parties and the international community of rigging previous polls using the flawed voters’ roll which MDC-T secretary-general and Finance minister Tendai Biti recently claimed has millions of dead voters.
According to Zec, the number of registered voters stands at about 5,7 million after the recent striking off of 345 400 names of deceased people, while over 60 000 new voters were registered.
Zec says in the disputed March 2008 general elections, the voters’ roll had 5 934 769 people who dropped to 5 589 355 in November 2012, only to rise to 5 651 600.
However, these figures have sparked a fierce war in the inclusive government where MDC ministers last week raised the issue — which was tackled in cabinet — in a bid to avoid the systematic disenfranchisement of potential voters by the Registrar-General (RG)’s Office accused of deliberately turning away potential voters in areas perceived to be MDC strongholds.
RG Tobaiwa Mudede is under pressure to quit amid accusations of incompetence and corruption within his offices.
The voters’ roll is likely to remain a source of acrimony until elections are held as long as the matter is not addressed to the satisfaction of all political parties vigorously pushing for its audit and registration of their supporters.
Apart from a clean voters’ roll, the country needs a raft of other electoral reforms including competent electoral administration, an independent Zec which the MDC parties claim is staffed with pro-Zanu PF security agents, a non-partisan public media and professional security services if elections are to be free and fair.
Political pundits say the credibility of an election outcome lies in the integrity of the electoral process and institutions, including a reliable voters’ roll.
The MDC formations have complained the ongoing voter registration exercise was underfunded and inaccessible to many citizens, a factor which they allege would work in favour of Mugabe and Zanu PF who may manipulate it to achieve their desired outcome.
Questions have already been raised as to why the electoral body printed 12 million ballots for the March 16 referendum when Zimbabwe does not have more than six million voters.
Consequently, this prompted political observers to query the numbers which voted in the referendum, with suggestions Mugabe and his party wanted to use the high voter turnout cited in the referendum to rig elections.
National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations secretary-general Godwin Phiri said the voters’ roll was the game-changer in elections since it determines who votes and who does not.
“The RG’s Office is the least qualified given the manner in which it is created and the well-known bias of its leadership,” Phiri said.
But Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe public policy and governance manager and political commentator Jabusile Shumba said: “Political stakeholders must work on mechanisms to ensure all eligible Zimbabweans can vote irrespective of whether they are registered or not, especially for the presidential poll although it will not be possible for constituency seats where only voters from the particular constituency should elect their representative.”
Another important component of an election is voter education which Phiri said was critical to enable citizens to vote from informed positions, and avoid spoilt votes.
“This process must be democratised to allow for a multiplicity of players to reach out to the people,” he said.
There are many problems with the voters’ roll. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, for example, says the register contains voters whose names have been duplicated in different voting districts and tens of thousands more who are living abroad and are disqualified from voting.
There is also the controversy over the Israeli computer technology company that specialises in population registration and election systems, something which has raised new fears of high-tech manipulation of results.
The company, Nikuv, has expanded its facilities and increased its staff in the country and is believed to be working with military and intelligence chiefs loyal to Mugabe.