VOTER registration, now a standing cabinet agenda item, once again dominated the government policy-making body meeting this week, resulting in Justice Minister Patrick Chinamsa, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Rita Makarau, and Registrar General (RG) Tobaiwa Mudede being instructed to meet to deal with the issue threatening to throw the electoral process into chaos.
Report by Brian Chitemba
Chinamasa, Mudede and Makarau were expected to meet yesterday to find ways of smoothening voter registration which is increasingly becoming a contentious issue ahead of crucial general elections.
The meeting was expected to take stock of all the problems which affected the mobile voter registration exercise, discuss ways of how “aliens” will get documents to enable them to register as voters as provided for by the new constitution and look at plans to establish schools as registration centres where headmasters will become commissioners of oath to allow all Zimbabweans to be able to register.
Government is going to publish a consolidated plan of how voter registration is going to unfold.
This comes ahead of the 30-day mandatory voter registration starting on Monday after Finance minister Tendai Biti announced he has secured US$25 million for the exercise.
Voter registration has always been a big challenge in previous elections, leading to Zanu PF being accused of using a shambolic voters’ roll to rig elections.
Home Affairs co-Minister, Theresa Makone, recently reported to cabinet that ordinary Zimbabweans were failing to register due to a number of bottlenecks resulting in RG’s office being directed to replace lost identity documents for all Zimbabweans free of charge until the last day of voter registration.
“Aliens” were recently cleared to get identity cards so that they can register as voters, but despite the cabinet directive many people still found it difficult to register and acquire documents with registry officials being strict on issues such as proof of residence, among other stringent demands.
The word “alien”, stamped on the minority’s identity, refers to anyone who does not belong in the environment in which they are found or a person who comes from a foreign country and does not owe allegiance to the country he or she is in.
An electoral democracy lobby non-governmental organisation, Election Resource Centre (ERC), says many people were still disenfranchised due to the chaotic voter registration exercise.
ERC says the previous mobile registration process lacked awareness around when and where the registration process was to take place. Voter awareness was devoid of the intricate details relating to what type of services were rendered by the mobile teams.
This resulted in a number of potential voters being turned away because they would have visited the centres seeking to recover lost birth certificates instead registering to vote.
Key government institutions, ERC notes, supposed to be complementing voter registration teams seem to be unaware of their responsibilities given that police were failing to issue reports to first time voter registrants to get a national identity card for free.
Voter registration teams made the process cumbersome by refusing to issue birth certificates which are a requisite to obtain an ID, before one qualifies to register as a voter.
According to ERC, the previous voter registration exercise was characterised by massive urban skirting where towns and cities such as Mutare, Chipinge, Gwanda and Masvingo had no designated registration centres.
Apart from ERC, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) has also complained about lack of professionalism among registration teams after they failed to open and close centres at stipulated times, resulting in queuing prospective voters being turned away.
In some cases, mobile units would relocate without notice, leaving citizens frustrated.The registration teams, Zesn says, were plagued by an excruciatingly slow pace of processing applications for registration.
“Mobile and static units had limited services. Reports reveal that not all of the units were offering a comprehensive package of birth certificates, national identification papers and voter registration on site,” Zesn says. “As a result prospective registrants were unable to benefit fully from a single centre. Some citizens with ‘waiting passes’ were asked to produce birth certificates and upon failure to do so, failed to register.”
On funding of the exercise, Zesn says there is a problem with lack of transparency on how the funds were disbursed, with government departments accusing and counter-accusing each other of receiving different amounts of money.
“As a result there was lack of accountability and blame games revolving around inadequate funding dominated the narrative for the insufficiencies of the exercise,” it says.
Thus civil organisations have recommended that decentralisation of the process should reach at least the polling stations level in order to lessen the travelling distance to allow easy access to voter registration services. The civil groups further suggest that registration teams provide full services to potential voters instead of limiting them to IDs and voter registration without providing birth certificates.
They say a credible voter registration could be done if there was effective supervision of the RG’s office by Zec, which is ultimately accountable to stakeholders.
The groups say a successful voter registration exercise can only be achieved after the public has been adequately informed of the process, the requirements and the modalities prior to the commencement of the process. Further, a proper voter registration requires adequate financial and well-trained human resources, while stakeholders should be allowed to educate and mobilise citizens to participate in the process, they say.