THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (Zec) delay in releasing an election plan, which is supposed to provide timelines on important processes such as the inspection of the voters’ roll, could discredit this year’s general election, an advocacy group has warned.
By Hazel Ndebele
In democracies, an election plan is usually issued 18 months before the polls to allow the various stakeholders enough time to scrutinise electoral processes. Zimbabwe’s election is due between July 22 and August 23, in accordance with the constitution.
In an interview with this paper this week, Election Resource Centre executive director Tawanda Chimhini said Zec’s preparedness for the elections is in jeopardy, considering that the election plan has not been issued, less than six months before the poll. He said an electoral body’s preparedness is measured on the basis of a publicly announced plan.
“In a normal set up and in other countries, an election plan is issued at least 18 months before the election and now with Zec, it’s less than six months to the earliest possible election date and we have not seen their election calendar. The plan is needed in order to hold them accountable for what they would have promised,” Chimhini said.
“The election plan will have things like when essential material for the election will be procured, when the inspection and audit of the voters’ roll will be done as well as when training of workers will be done. These are issues which have caused problems in the past and therefore if not dealt with, it would be very difficult to have a free, fair and credible election,” he added.
Chimhini said a number of legislative issues such as the alignment of the electoral law to the national constitution had to be dealt with urgently as time is fast running out. He said some of the most important sections of those laws were provisions to do with independence of Zec and the right to vote.
Commenting on the mobile BVR which ended yesterday, Chimhini accused Zec of not taking stern action against the intimidation of voters particularly the demanding of serial numbers of voter registration slips.
“Such intimidation has a huge bearing on the quality of the voter registration process. It is time for Zec to focus on quality and not quantity.”
Zanu PF leaders in various provinces have been accused of demanding serial numbers of voter registration slips. Zec issued a press statement warning those who are intimidating voters. However, Chimhini said that was not enough action from Zec which could as part of its mandate instruct the Zimbabwe Republic Police to arrest such people.
Long queues could be seen throughout this week as scores of potential voters wanted to register at their nearest BVR centres before the deadline.
Although the mobile BVR exercise ended yesterday, voter registration will continue at Zec’s district centres until 12 days after the nomination court has sat. The nomination court will sit to officially register the presidential, legislative and local authority candidates.
Chimhini said the mobile BVR proved that most citizens are interested in being part of the country’s forthcoming elections. However, he said some of those citizens faced challenges in exercising their rights as a large number of people were turned away from registration for different issues.
“More than 6 000 people were turned away for different reasons but most of them being aliens who had long birth certificates.
This may seem like a small number out of five million registered voters but we are saying everyone eligible to vote must be able to do so without any hindrances. Zec has the right to instruct state bodies such as the Registrar-General’s Office to act in a way which supports a free, fair and credible election,” Chimhini said. “There is no reason one office should refuse documents issued by the same office and this has to be solved to avoid disenfranchising many more potential voters.”
Civil society organisations (CSOs) have also pointed out that Zec has a lot of issues it needed to deal with urgently if the nation is to have a free, fair and credible election.
In a statement this week, CSOs said it is worrying that access to documentation such as birth certificates and national identity documents (IDs) necessary for voter registration has remained limited to citizens. The organisations also raised concerns on legislative issues, saying the electoral processes such as voter registration should not continue to be implemented in the absence of an Electoral Act that is fully aligned with the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
The CSOs called upon election authorities to ensure that voter registration, inspection of the voters’ roll, election campaign and the actual voting are open to all citizens, and that they be allowed to assemble without fear of violence.
Political parties, they said, must adhere to the political parties and candidates’ code of conduct.
They also demanded the immediate investigation and bringing to book of political players involved in politically motivated attacks and continued demand for voter registration serial numbers.
The CSOs include Heal Zimbabwe Trust, Women Institute in Leadership Development, National Youth for Development Trust, and Christian Alliance.