ZIMBABWEANS will on July 30 hold make-or-break general elections, in which 23 presidential candidates will battle it out, although in reality it is a two-horse race. This will be first elections in the post-Robert Mugabe era, in which youths hold the key to the outcome. With just 10 days to go the main opposition political party, the MDC Alliance, is fighting with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) over two main issues, the ballots and voters’ roll; it wants the issues resolved first if the country is to hold free, fair, transparent and credible elections. The alliance is planning vigils at Zec offices countrywide from next week Tuesday to July 30 if the electoral management body refuses to accede to its demands for key reforms. Zimbabwe Independent deputy editor Faith Zaba (FZ) this week interviewed Zec chairperson Priscilla Chigumba (PC, pictured) on the commission’s readiness to hold the polls. Below are excerpts of the interview:
FZ: With less than two weeks before the country holds general elections, how prepared is Zec to conduct free, fair and credible polls, which are also logistically smooth?
PC: The commission is making its final preparations in terms of procurement, dispatches and receipt of election materials. It is hopeful that all goes well on election day.
FZ: How many foreign observers and journalists have you accredited to date?
PC: To date, the commission has accredited a total of 1 689 observers from the applications, broken down as follows: Local observers 1 110, foreign observers 210, local journalists 335 and foreign journalists 34.
FZ: The issue of postal voting has attracted a lot of controversy, what is the current situation regarding that, have all the people that applied voted and if not why?
PC: Postal voting closed on July 16, 2018. There were disturbances experienced by both the police and the Zec as a result of disruption of the process by some cadres of the MDC Alliance. In the case of Zec, some of the successful applicants could not exercise their right because of these disturbances and, as such, they will now vote ordinarily on July 30, 2018. The matter was reported to the police for investigation.
FZ: Please explain why there were contradictions last week among Zec senior officials, with the chief elections and provincial elections officers issuing denials of postal voting at Bulawayo Ross Camp? Does this mean Zec was unaware of the postal voting?
PC: There was no contradiction as such among Zec senior officials, but the context was that some stakeholders were of the mistaken view that the commission had set up polling stations for purposes of administering the postal vote. The denial by the chief elections officer (Utoile Silaigwana) related to reports that the police were voting in a polling station set up by Zec for that purpose. The commission was not involved and is not supposed to be involved in the administration of the actual vote by successful applicants because this is done in secret. The commission is responsible for ensuring the dispatch and receipt of the return envelopes on the prescribed date. Therefore, it would not have been known by Zec officials when the respective institutions were going to administer the vote for their applicants.
FZ: Political parties and critics have questioned why there was bulk distribution of the ballot papers, what does the law say?
PC: It depends on the number of applications involved and some institutions such as the police, the defence forces and embassies are allowed to process the postal ballot applications through their commanding officers or heads of ministries or diplomatic missions in terms of Section 73 of the Electoral Act. Remember, a number of police officers will be deployed during the election period for purposes of maintaining law and order.
FZ: There have also been allegations of violations of vote secrecy, what is your comment on this?
PC: This was denied by the police and, as you may be aware, the matter had been lodged with the courts, but was dismissed for lack of evidence.
FZ: Critics and opposition parties have said the voters’ roll is a mess, as it has ghost voters, multiple and fake entries. What are you doing to address these issues ahead of the elections?
PC: The commission is convinced that it has come up with a credible voters’ roll. Those alleging are being economic with the truth because the issue of ghost voters was effectively dealt with when the commission embarked on a fresh voter registration exercise which required all applicants to present themselves at voter registration centres.
Therefore, no dead voters could present themselves for registration, so the issue of ghost voters does not arise. The issue of multiple entries was also dealt with by the use of the Automated Finger Print Identification System, which weeds out multiple registrations through identification of applicants through their biological features such as finger prints. Fake entries can never be included on the voters’ roll because the identity card number is the key determinant for one to be enrolled on the voters’ roll.
FZ: Turning to printing of ballot papers, have all the ballot papers been printed and where?
PC: The printing of the presidential ballot is now complete, while that of the National Assembly and local authority is almost complete. The commission has already disclosed to stakeholders that the printing of the ballot papers is being done by Fidelity Printers and Printflow Private Limited companies.
FZ: Were all the political parties involved in the printing process, if not why?
PC: It is not a legal requirement that political parties be involved in the printing process, but the commission attempted to involve the parties as a consensus-building measure before abandoning the idea after stakeholders made further unlawful and unreasonable demands. The design and printing of the ballot paper is the exclusive right of the commission in terms of section 239(g) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
FZ: How many ballot papers have been printed for presidential and National Assembly and how many extra ballot papers have been printed?
PC: The number of ballot papers printed will be published in accordance with Section 52A of the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13] after completion of the printing process. The same section requires the commission to print not more than 10% of the number of registered voters eligible to vote in the election.
FZ: Have other political parties been involved in verifying the security features on the ballots, please explain the reasons behind the decision?
PC: As already stated above, the designing and printing of the ballot paper is the responsibility of Zec. However, the commission provided interested stakeholders with sample ballot paper for them to have an appreciation of the quality and type of paper to be used. The purpose of the security features is for the commission to confirm ownership with certainty of the ballot paper in the event of allegations of counterfeits.
FZ: How many political parties and candidates are contesting the elections, presidential, National Assembly and local authorities?
PC: We have a total of 23 presidential aspirants, 1 652 National Assembly Constituencies candidates. A total of 55 political parties fielded candidates for presidential, National Assembly and local authorities’ elections.
FZ: What is your comment on accusations that the presidential ballot violates section 57 of the Electoral Act, which critics say is because Form V10 does not allow double page and has to be on a single column?
PC: Our comment is that the accusations are denied and it is their own interpretation of the provision which differs from ours.
FZ: Who is going to transport the election materials to polling stations?
PC: The Zec has always and will be responsible for transporting electoral materials to polling stations.
FZ: Surveys conducted have indicated that Zimbabweans do not generally trust Zec and there has been a lot of talk about Zec being an instrument of rigging for Zanu PF. What is your comment on this?
PC: We do not blame the generality of Zimbabweans who are of that view for they are victims of irresponsible politics and journalism which is only meant to tarnish the image of the commission. In fact, Zimbabweans should ask themselves why in all these past elections there has not been a single case where Zec has been taken to court and found guilty of rigging as alleged year-in-year-out each time there is an election. Those who allege rigging do not do so when they win an election and, as such, Zec has come to conclude that it is only a strategy for them to appease their supporters.
FZ: Critics say you are only fulfilling the bare-minimum legal requirements instead of opening up and becoming more transparent. What is your comment on this?
PC: That is denied. In fact, Zec has resorted to provisions of the law after some stakeholders became abusive and made demands which are not only unlawful, but unreasonable when it tried to reach out.
FZ: What is your comment on the issue of positioning of the voting booths, which has been raised with critics saying it does not safeguard secrecy of the vote?
PC: It does safeguard the secrecy of the ballot and this positioning is also applied in other countries. The secrecy is not being able to see how the voter has marked his or her ballot and not that officers should not be able to see a voter in the polling booth. These may be armchair critics who are criticising from an uninformed point of view.
FZ: What is Zec’s position in relation to MDC Alliance’s demands?
PC: Zec’s position is that it has already responded to the demands by the MDC Alliance.
FZ: What is Zec doing to address the demands from political parties in general?
PC: Our constitution and Electoral Act provides for the setting up of multi-party liaison committees after the proclamation of the election date. These committees are convened at district, provincial and national levels. They are a dispute resolution mechanism. They operate as a consensus-building tool. The commission has referred all outstanding electoral disputes to the national multi-party liaison committee, which will sit this Friday, July 20, 2018 (today). Whatever is decided by the 55 political parties going to the elections on a majority basis will be referred to the full commission for discussion.
FZ: On the election funding, how much will the election cost without a run-off and also if we go to a run-off?
PC: We will be able to give a definitive answer after the elections because it may be premature to state the exact costs involved.
FZ: How much did Zec get from government and who else is funding the election, and by how much?
PC: The commission was allocated US$95,9 million out of a bid of US$178 million budget for the 2018 general elections. This support by government was complemented by cooperating partners such as the United Nations Development Programme, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and International Foundation for Electoral Systems, in areas such voter education, communication, training and data centre upgrade. The African Union also played a key role in further facilitating the training of election officials and printing of election manuals.
FZ: Zec has been accused in the past of corruption and flouting of tender procedures? What mechanisms have you put in place to safeguard against this?
PC: The commission has an Audit and Risk Committee to look into such issues and it has also instituted a forensic audit to establish the veracity of some of the allegations made.
FZ: How far have investigations gone into corruption related to procurement of software and hardware of BVR?
PC: I am not aware of any investigations that are being conducted into the alleged corruption related to procurement of software and hardware of BVR. Probably if there was any corruption, then this many be exposed by the forensic audit currently underway.
FZ: What is Zec’s staffing levels, and of these how may are from the security sector?
PC: Zec has a staffing complement of 400+ employees and none are from the security sector. Only around 50 employees are former security sector employees who resigned or retired from service when they joined Zec.
FZ: How many cars have been bought recently and their worth?
PC: The commission has bought over 100 cars to increase its mobility during the forthcoming and other future elections.
FZ: What is your view on the media coverage?
PC: The media is still polarised and is failing to uphold the right to reply, leading to misinformation, misrepresentation of facts and furthering of certain political interests.