Bias and chaos as voter registration rumbles on

WHILE chaos continues to rock the voter registration exercise in Zimbabwe’s urban centres countrywide, it is a different story in rural areas where the process is proceeding relatively smoothly.

Faith Zaba

In urban areas like Mabvuku-Tafara in Harare, riot police had to be called in this week to quell tempers as tensions boiled over at the snail’s pace of the process particularly in MDC-T strongholds, where potential voters claimed registration officers were deliberately serving people slowly raising fears of a deliberate plot to disenfranchise some potential voters.

The story in Mabvuku-Tafara is similar to happenings in many other urban centres where residents have failed to register over the three days mobile voter registration teams visited their areas.

They accused the Registrar-General officials of being on “go-slow” by employing delaying tactics to frustrate potential voters, most of whom were turned away for various reasons.

The 30-day mandatory voter registration exercise, which began on June 10 and is expected to end on July 9, has been engulfed in chaos despite desperate efforts by cabinet to implement a raft of measures to smoothen the process.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said there were “varying levels of interests with some centres facing more numbers than could be managed in the three allocated days”.

“This means some centres will fail to register the numbers of people wishing to do so within the three days allocated to a particular centre,” Zesn said.

With 11 days left before the exercise ends, the Zimbabwe Independent this week visited rural registration centres in Mashonaland Central where the situation appeared relatively different to the turmoil prevailing in urban centres.

Mashonaland Central is a Zanu PF stronghold where the MDC-T won only two of the 18 House of Assembly seats in the 2008 elections. Together with Mashonaland West and Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central province has been the buffer which protected President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF from defeat in the past elections.

Conversely, the three Mashonaland provinces have prevented Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC-T from winning elections previously.

Voter registration queues in Mashonaland Central were moving fast and smoothly compared to Harare and Chitungwiza where residents had to brave the chilly weather over the past two weeks, queuing as early as 5am.

Despite queuing that early, some Harare and Chitungwiza aspiring voters still failed to register when mobile centres closed at 7pm and some even found no joy when they returned the following day.

However, at registration centres visited by the Independent in Mazowe, Bindura, Mt Darwin and Shamva, queues were moving fast and aspiring voters spent a maximum of about 15 minutes to register, from arrival at the station and the registration process itself. In Harare, people spent at least 30 minutes or more to register after queuing for hours.

When the Independent crew visited Belgownie Primary School, about 20km off the Harare-Bindura road, a handful of people were registering peacefully in contrast to the chaotic scenes at the centre where Zanu PF supporters were waiting for ballot papers to vote in the party’s primary elections to choose councillors, House of Assembly representatives, senators and seats reserved for women.

One villager, Peter Tembo, said: “We are registering smoothly and the queues are moving really fast. People are not spending more than 15 minutes in the queue. Actually, I was shocked to hear that people in Harare are spending hours in the queue.

“Voter registration is not a problem here. You see, this area is surrounded by large-scale farms and most of the people who are registering at this centre are of Malawian and Mozambican origin. So our biggest problem is that of birth certificates and national identity cards, but that is being sorted out. We also have a lot of makorokozas (gold panners) in this area.”

Zimbabweans of Zambian, Malawian and Mozambican origin — the so-called aliens — are now being allowed to vote after the new constitution and cabinet resolutions opened the way for them to do so. It is estimated that there are about three million Zimbabweans with roots in Zambian, Malawian and Mozambique.

Short and fast-moving queues also characterised other registration centres at the district administrator’s office in Bindura and in Mazowe at Foothill and Jaji primary schools.

All eligible voters in Fundiraivhu and Border Gezi villages in Bindura South managed to register.

“More than 700 villagers eligible to vote in our two villages managed to register without any hiccups. We didn’t have to queue for long hours,” said Mary Kanyemba.

Despite chaos, voter registration process has been marred by lack of funding, inadequate publicity and little voter education, resulting in the entire process being described by other political parties as being messy.

The Independent also noted that there are more centres allocated to rural areas than urban areas.

Bulawayo, with an official population of 655 675 — although analysts say is grossly under-stated for political reasons — has 35 centres, Harare and Chitungwiza with 2,1 million has 48 centres, Manicaland’s 1,76 million has 300 centres, Mashonaland Central with 1,13 million has 388 centres and Mashonaland East with 1,33 million has 418 registration centres.

Based on population, observers say, Harare and Chitungwiza should have been allocated more registration centres as the most populated centres in the country, with the highest number of registered voters which stood at 1,2 million as at May 2013.

Manicaland should also have been allocated more than Mashonaland East and Mashonaland Central province as it is the second most populated province after Harare with 807 300 registered voters.

Midlands, which is known to be the largest province geographically, has 405 registration centres.

Zesn has always maintained that there cannot be free and fair elections without proper verification that voters fulfill their legal requirements.

Voter registration is recognised and acknowledged as important in the Sadc Principles Governing the Conduct of Democratic Elections as well as in the African Union Guidelines on Elections.

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