WHILE the call to have a peaceful electoral environment is critical in the administration of the coming elections, it is important to note that the presence of law and order and consequently the absence of political violence are not adequate ingredients to foster a credible electoral process.
Opinion by Pedzisayi Ruhanya
A transparent voter registration process is a key component of a democratic electoral process.
From my observations of the voter registration shenanigans taking place under the watch of the Registrar-General’s office (RG), with the acquiescence of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec), it seems the manipulation of the electoral process is already underway through the voter registration process and ultimately the configuration of the voters’ roll.
It would be disingenuous for political and civic actors to only concentrate on the political environment without giving due attention to the state of the voters’ roll and the registration process.
Clearly forces bent on frustrating the democratic process have invested effort, time and resources into influencing and manipulating the outcome of the elections by compromising the integrity of the voters’ roll and masking their trickery with limited instances of overt violence and intimidation.
Zanu PF and its surrogate electoral institutions’ political strategy has shifted following the realisation that overt violence and intimidation will ultimately deny them the regional and international legitimacy they so desperately need.
Judging by how Zimbabweans with foreign parentage –– the so-called aliens –– are finding it difficult to register and the opaque nature of the process, it becomes clear there are concerted efforts to manipulate the voters’ roll to influence the electoral outcome.
The focus for the pro-democracy lobby groups should be to ensure a transparent and open voter registration process and updated voters’ roll to avoid the pitfalls of yet another disputed result and possibly another government of national unity.
Zanu PF’s attempt to influence the electoral process through manipulation of the voter registration process is being aided and abetted by some partisan elements within the RG’s office and Zec, some of whom were responsible for running disputed elections such as the violent June 2008 presidential run-off.
Some of the officials were seconded from the security establishment after retiring from active service.
While it is lawful to have retired officers serving in election bodies, the past record of failure and partisanship disqualifies some of them from assuming such positions in a democratic society.
Eligible Zimbabweans should have the unfeterred right to register to vote. This right cannot be compromised by partisan officials if the coming general elections have any chance of being deemed credible, free and fair.
Recently the RG’s office and Zec claimed close to a million dead voters have been deleted. They also stated that since November 2012, 62 245 new names were added on the voters’ roll. These statistics need to be corroborated by civic society and political parties pushing for a transparent electoral process.
Added to this, there have been reports people seeking to register to vote for the first time are failing to do so due to bureaucratic bungling and systematic disenfranchisement by the RG’s office.
If only 60 000 people have registered to vote in the last four years then Zec and the RG’s office need to do more to remove the hurdles in the voter registration process.
The disenfranchisement of voters by these bodies should be nipped in the bud to ensure all Zimbabweans can participate in electoral processes.
Most people, especially young voters, are also being turned away from registering to vote because officials demand proof of residence despite most urbanites being tenants.
The decision by cabinet to relax the proof of residence requirements is not being applied uniformly particularly in areas where the majority of eligible voters are deemed supporters of the MDC parties.
These loopholes cumulatively influence the electoral outcome.
For instance, 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 deliberately conducting their duties slowly, resulting in congestion at polling stations.
The so-called aliens also face an uphill task in acquiring birth certificates, requisite for also getting national identity documents. As a result a number of them are unable to register as voters because they would do not have identity documents.
This will ultimately benefit Zanu PF which is using every available loophole and opportunity to disenfranchise citizens who are perceived to be hostile to its political agenda.
In authoritarian regimes, elections are merely a means by which the ruling elites consolidate their hegemony. Under this scenario, the electoral process, environment and administration are crafted to deliver a pre-determined outcome of regime retention and continuity.
A credible and impartial RG’s office is a critical factor in attempts to deliver a democratic electoral process and outcome culminating in a smooth transfer of power in Zimbabwe. This office has been a monumental failure and all eyes must focus on its activities before it is too late.
Elections can be perceived as a barometer for defining democracy. A modern state could be perceived as having a democratic political system if its most powerful political office bearers are chosen through fair, honest, periodic elections in which candidates freely compete for votes in a system allowing for universal suffrage.
The RG’s office and Zec secretariat, as currently composed, cannot deliver free and fair elections.
These two offices are a breeding ground for subverting the will of the people.
Ruhanya is director of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.