Quest for electoral reform: Zesn launches draft amendment Bill

THE Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) yesterday launched a Draft Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill as part of its efforts to push the government to expedite electoral reforms ahead of the 2023 general elections.

The virtual launch follows the petition in December 2018 by Zesn and other civil society organisations (CSOs) to parliament asking for amendments that deal with a number of legislative, administrative and political gaps that exist in the constitution and the Electoral Act.

Government, through the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, responded swiftly to the Zesn petition on electoral reforms and held a series of engagements.

During one of the engagements, Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda called on Zesn to co-ordinate CSOs in developing a model law on elections to expedite the process of adopting the electoral reforms.

Zesn worked with a number of CSOs which included women’s organisations, persons with disabilities, youths, marginalised groups and electoral experts in crafting the draft Bill.

During the launch, Zesn chairperson Andrew Makoni said: “The Draft Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill is a result of wide consultations and reviews of the original draft and this has taken us a period of almost a year since 2019. We sincerely hope that the draft Bill and the proposals contained in it will be considered by parliament. As we envisage, the adoption of the proposal in the Bill will support significant improvements in the legislative framework for future electoral processes in Zimbabwe”.

Vice-chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Legal, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Joshua Murire, who received the draft Bill, implored government to urgently review the electoral law in compliance, not only with the international undertakings, but also with the provisions of the constitution.

Some of the key highlights of the draft Bill include, new clauses that further advance the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) as provided for in Sections 232 to 237 of the constitution. It also places Zec in control of the discharge of all electoral-related functions and make it answerable to the National Assembly.

Further the draft Bill provides that Members of Parliament (MPs) and provincial, metropolitan or local authority councillors should at all times reflect gender parity in order to achieve gender equality pursuant to Sections 17, 56(2) and (3) and 80(1) of the constitution.

The draft Bill also lays out obligations of political parties towards women, that every political party and candidate must respect, facilitate, promote and respect the full, free and equal right of women to participate in political activity, within parties and as candidates.

It also provides that MPs and provincial, metropolitan or local authority councillors shall at all times comply with any quotas reserved for the youth and persons with disabilities as may be prescribed by Zec in consultation with registered political parties.

In addition, the draft Bill provides that visually impaired voters must be provided with a ballot paper in braille or such other appropriate form as may be prescribed to ensure their participation and secrecy of the vote.

The amendments will extend the section to cover ward voters rolls as well as constituency rolls and will extend the remedies available to voters whose requests for transfer are rejected to include a complaint to Zec and a review by the Electoral Court in addition to an appeal to a designated magistrate which was the only remedy.

The proposed draft Bill also makes provisions that will ensure that the process of cleaning up the voters’ roll is conducted in a transparent manner with appropriate notice being given to the citizens affected and makes the voters’ rolls more accessible to stakeholders as well as provides for appeal mechanisms for any person aggrieved by a decision of a voter registration officer or the commission.

With regards to external and postal voting — right to vote and inclusivity, Section 67(3)(a) of the constitution postulates that every Zimbabwean citizen, who is of or over 18 years of age, has the right to vote in all elections and to do so in secret. The Bill now extends postal voting to all registered voters, who may be outside the country at the time of elections. … and to do so in secret.

The Bill also introduces a new Section 39B which empowers Zec to postpone an election at any polling station if it has reasonably determined that it is not possible to conduct a free and fair election at that polling station. Any postponement should be to a time within the period prescribed for holding elections by Section 38(1) of the constitution.

On media and elections, the Bill provides lawmakers with an opportunity to put in place measures to prevent or limit the abuse of the right to public broadcasting services. Section 160H pertains to how political advertisements can be placed in the media. — Staff Writer.