By Shingirai Vambe
Zimbabwe – As the nation gears up for 2023 presidential election campaign with the temperatures rising following a watershed run up which saw the opposition taking the lead in Zambia, Zimbabwe Electoral commission (ZEC) has once again been found wanting.
Zimbabwe is expected to hold its general election in August 2023 and the opposition party led by Nelson Chamisa has started to prepare regardless of the challenges met before, during and after the 2018 disputed election not being addressed.
2018 elections saw ZEC introducing a new registering program which is in tandem with the new world order to improve transparency and accountability thus migrating from analog to digital, doing away with the manual and written voters’ rolls and adopting the biometric one which uses and recognize fingerprints.
Some countries are already casting and counting their elections votes using the biometric systems.
The Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) came at a time when political parties in Zimbabwe where accusing the ruling Zanu Pf party of rigging elections through fake identity cards, age, ghost votes and manipulation of figures to equate that on the voters roll.
Since 2018, Zimbabweans had to start afresh, even when one had registered before, he or she is supposed to start again the registration process and those who have reached the required age of voting (18) supposed to, and some have since registered to vote.
As at December 2020, two years after the commencement of the BVR, the Commission told Post On Sunday that only 2515 people had registered to vote. This paltry figure raised questions with stakeholders and electoral bodies if ZEC is able to stand with its independent constitutional mandate.
Contacted for comment, The Election Resource Centre of Zimbabwe (ERC) spokesperson Bobosibunu Masaka said, ZEC had not held any campaign since 2018 which was against the mandate.
“The Commission has not had a voter registration campaign across the country. When ERC toured voter registration centers, some indicated that they targeted ‘A’ Level students after the 2018 election but this was not a comprehensive campaign”
“This is not sufficient as every day there are people turning the age of 18, acquiring identity document, changing citizenship status to mention just a few, which by nature must see registration drives to capture those” added Masaka.
With the geographical landscape, changes made during and after the land redistribution exercise, most Zimbabweans migrated to resettlement areas where they can hardly find such including health services.
Majority travel long distances, kilometers and kilometers to access basic services to nearby service towns and in this instance, they may not be able to vote due to absence of a nearby voter registration centers. Such notable areas are said to have been producing high number of votes, which alone has created tension between the two main political parties in Zimbabwe, Zanu pf and MDC Alliance.
Masaka however added that people in towns without voter registration centres are advised to locate centres close to their areas of residence. Voter registration centres are open continuously in 63 district centres and 10 provincial centres. These centres indeed place limitations on citizens access to the registration process. The distances are long and in most instances there is no voter education to prepare the would be registrants. However ERC can facilitate access to some of the centres if citizens organize themselves. Citizens are encouraged to call the ERC tollfree 08080219 to get more information on the modalities” he said.
Adding to that note, ERC believes a more proactive approach by ZEC will enable a number of citizens to register as voters and participate in the electoral processes.
“The Commission needs to find innovative ways to register voters particularly the youth and those in marginalised areas due to distance. Voter registration campaigns targeting A level and university students. The ERC is on stand by to partner with the Commission to ensure that every Zimbabwean who is 18 years and above is able to register as a voter.
Voter education must be more pronounced because without information it is difficult for people to make decisions. Likewise the ERC has various platforms where electoral information can be shared including through the citizen call centre” added Masaka.
Post On Sunday reached out to ZEC, no response to questions raised regarding the BVR processes or any challenges faced during the period under review from the commission.
ZEC as an independent body has an allocation through treasury to manage and run its institutional mandate such as voter education campaigns outreachs to mention just a few.
In 2020-2021 budget allocation the Commission was ZWL $2.3 billion from treasury and this publication has it that they are still to appear before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Accounts to respond on how they have used their allocation and if there are any challenges which need to be addressed.
Contacted for a comment, Media Analyst Alexander Rusero said ZEC has actually failed to live to its detects as stipulated in the constitution, precisely section 239 (h) which obligates the electoral body to conduct and supervise voter education.
Rusero added that it denotes to the structural and institutional composition not necessarily of ZEC but the whole makeup of the so called independent institutions in Zimbabwe which have been heavily been imbedded to the state.
Contacted for comment secretary for elections in the MDC A party, Ian Makone failed to respond to few questions sent to him regarding the matter and surprisingly the issue of voter education and registration has been taken over by individuals and social media.
ZEC has been latent in terms of the whole issue, it looks like Twitter is now ZEC, because the whole mobilization and education is being conducted voluntary by individuals on social media.
Rusero further highlighted that this alone set a bad precedence for the commission, “ZEC shouldn’t be trailing behind, should lead the process, start putting all the mechanisms in place. We are only 23 months away from an election without the willingness or the ability to conduct the process.”
“We are going into another election with certain issues to do with the structural and institutional reforms having not taken place. We are going into another election without the voice of Parliament having been decimated following those dubious recalls by Douglas Mwonzora led MDC, we are likely to see a repeat of 2018” added Rusero.
The whole issue of voter education and registration boils down to the budgetary allocation to assess if there is willingness on part of the the government or executive, elections come with a huge demands and this is actually a perception of how the government regard ZEC and running of elections in Zimbabwe.
Political Analysts also added their voices and told this publication that section 239 (k) of the provision of the Constitution has certain mechanisms that obligates ZEC to receive and consider complaints from the public and to take action. How many people have knocked the doors of ZEC and compelled them to say why are you depriving us the rights captured in the constitution of conduction voter registration and education?
Rusero told Post on Sunday that the call is upon the people of Zimbabwe.
“It’s actually complacency on the part of citizens who turned to perceive elections as a one day event as opposed of elections being a process.
The honors and discretion is also on the part of Zimbabwe. With my experience having worked with ZEC as a National Media Coordinator in 2018 elections, I don’t think there is any embezzlement of funds but it’s a government issue, it’s a Parliament issue and treasury not willing to fully fund ZEC to conduct a free, fair and credible election” said Rusaro.