Soldiers to vote freely

HARARE - Electoral authorities say they are forging ahead with plans to allow soldiers and police officers to vote freely despite fierce resistance from some commanders.

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) commissioner Geoff Feltoe told the Daily News that the body is introducing a new voting system for armed forces to secure their vote, which in the 2008 election was compromised when commanders supervised voting in barracks.

The new requirements are in line with amendments made to the Electoral Act, which have attracted angry denunciations from top commanders.

Police chief Augustine Chihuri has been at the forefront of resisting the changes, writing to co-Home Affairs ministers, Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone on July 26 last year protesting against the agreed electoral reforms.

But Feltoe said yesterday they were moving to make the changes despite the fierce remonstrations.
“The Act is now the law of the country and if we are going to have an  election, we Soldiers to vote freely shall have to follow it,” he said.

Feltoe said soldiers will be voting freely starting with the constitutional referendum.

“Disciplined force personnel and election officers on duty during elections will vote at special voting stations in each district in advance of the ordinary poll,” Feltoe said.

“Previously disciplined force personnel voted by post but the parties to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) decided the system of postal voting for these voters should be replaced by a system of special voting because some contended that the way in which the system was administered exposed these voters to possible influence from their commanding officers.

 “Special voting will take place at district polling stations. The procedures used for voting at the stations will be the same as at ordinary polling stations except that the voters will produce their authorisations to vote on a special basis,” said Feltoe.

Before the amendment of the Electoral Act, police officers were entitled to vote under the postal voting system because they will be on duty on voting day.

Implementation and management of this provision has attracted widespread condemnation, especially after reports that junior and senior officers were ordered to vote for Zanu PF under the watchful eye of their commanders in the 2008 elections.

The changes will, however allow police officers to vote two days before Election Day under the supervision of electoral officials and election observers not commanders.

Chihuri had opposed the new system arguing that the time frame is too short and will disrupt the force’s election deployment plans.

He had proposed that police officers be allowed to vote 30 days before the actual polling day “in the worst-case scenario” to cater for logistical issues such as deployment.

Feltoe declined to comment on the residual resistance by Chihuri.

“As for the refusal of the police chief wanting some changes in the Electoral Act, you have to ask the police about why they did not want it,” he said.

Feltoe said Zec, as soon as practicable after the election is called, must fix two special voting days for soldiers and police.

Feltoe said ballots will be transported to the chief elections officer and then dispatched back to relevant wards before the ordinary poll so that they can be counted in the wards they are registered to vote, together with the ordinary ballots cast.

Asked if Zec had true numbers in the security forces that were going to participate in the elections as voters, he said: “I don’t have statistics on how many police and army personnel voted by post in the 2008 elections or how many diplomats etc outside the country have a postal vote in these elections.”

The Zec Act and Electoral Act have been combined into the Electoral Act as part of the GPA negotiations to hold free and fair elections.

“The election process takes place within the law,” Feltoe clarified.

“It is important for people to know how the process works. Sometimes misunderstandings arise because people don’t know.

“The election results cannot be changed. Under the new law, Zec has five days to announce the election results.

“It is now a criminal offence for any political party or anyone to announce the results, it is only Zec that can do so.

“If there is no official announcement of the results, the political parties should wait for the Zec announcement.”

Zec is headed by retired judge Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe who is deputised by Joyce Kazembe, but who has, for all intents and purposes, been running the authority under the absence of Mutambanengwe, who is a judge in the Namibian Supreme Court.

The Zec team consists of commissioners Feltoe, Theophilus Gambe, Bessie Nhandara, Sibongile Ndlovu, Mkhululi Nyathi and Pat Makoni.


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