Dabengwa fumes

HARARE - ZAPU president Dumiso Dabengwa is taking aim at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), whose conduct he says compromises the holding of a free and fair election.

Dabengwa, who says he is planning to contest the upcoming presidential election, has been trying to get an electronic copy of the voters’ roll since November last year.

But despite promises by Zec, nothing has materialised.

This has forced the liberation war hero to approach the High Court seeking an order to compel Zec to provide him with the Consolidated National Voters’ Roll in an electronic format which makes it possible for him to analyse the document.

In his application lodged at the High Court this month, Dabengwa states that the failure by Zec to fulfil its promise to provide him with a copy of the voters’ roll compromises prospects of a credible election.

“The fact that the voters’ roll is not, even at this stage, in effect and in accordance with the law, readily available in the proper electronic format and at a ‘reasonable cost’, I respectfully submit, casts an enormous shadow over having what can objectively be considered to be efficient, free, fair and transparent elections in accordance with the law,” Dabengwa states in court papers.

He cites provisions of Section 3 of the Electoral Act, which outline the general principles of democratic elections and state that every election shall be conducted in a way that is consistent with the principle that every citizen has the right to participate in government directly or through freely chosen representatives.

On the voters’ roll, Section 21 (3) of the Electoral Act states that: “The Commission shall within a reasonable time provide any person who requests it, and who pays the prescribed fee, with a copy of any voters’ roll, either in printed or in electronic form as the person may request.”

But this has not happened despite repeated requests by Dabengwa and his Zapu party.

“I respectfully submit that by, in effect, withholding the voters’ roll, these provisions are being breached,” Dabengwa states in his application.

Resorting to courts was a last option for Dabengwa, who, through his lawyer Bryant Elliot of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), tried to engage Zec. But correspondence shows that Dabengwa was getting frustrated with the waiting game.

His lawyers wrote to Zec requesting a copy of the consolidated national voters’ roll in electronic format in accordance with the Act and at a reasonable cost on 20 November.

Zec, through then acting chairperson Joyce Kazembe, responded nine days later acknowledging receipt of Dabengwa’s letter and promising that “the Commission will revert to you at the earliest possible time”.

Despite the contents of the letter, nothing further was heard from the Commission, and therefore, on December 18, 2012, Dabengwa’s lawyer addressed a reminder to Zec. The reminder was ignored.

Consequently, the lawyer wrote another letter to Zec on January 17,  this year. In a response dated January 29, 2013, Kazembe stated: “All the issues you raised are being attended to with the urgency they deserve and you should be getting a full response from us by February 10, 2013.”

On February 13, a letter signed by the Zec chief elections officer and addressed to ZLHR read: “We wish to apologise for the fact that we have not been able to fulfil our promise to answer your queries by February 10, 2013. We however, advise that we are still attending to your queries and that we shall come back to you in due course.”

By April, Zec had not honoured its pledge, forcing Elliot to write to the Commission’s new chairperson Justice Rita Makarau on April 11, alerting her to the issues.

It was only then that Zec responded to Dabengwa, stating that while the commission had an electronic copy of the voters’ roll, but it was “not in a form that can be analysed or on which you can use a search facility”.

Makarau stated that the commission was engaging Registrar General of voters Tobaiwa Mudede on the issue. Dabengwa said Zec’s conduct was unacceptable.

“It has therefore taken some five months for the Commission to reply to the original letter from our legal practitioners with regard to issues which the then acting chairperson admitted were urgent in her letter dated January 29, 2013,” said Dabengwa in court papers.

“I respectfully submit that this extraordinary delay is absolutely unsatisfactory and shows a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the Commission, especially when dealing with such an important subject matter as the voters’ roll,” Dabengwa stated.  — Legal Monitor

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