'Zec must supervise voter registration'

HARARE - As Zimbabwe gears for elections whose dates are yet to be announced this week in the Guthrie Munyuki Interview, our Senior Assistant Editor sought views of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) a local civic group involved in the monitoring and observation of elections; below are the excerpts of an interview with its national director Rindai Chipfunde Vava.

Q: Are you happy with the conditions that have been slapped on those who want to register and what are some of the concerns you might have regarding voter registration?

A: The fact that there will be a new voter registration exercise is a positive sign as the one that has just been completed was clearly inadequate.

What will be critical is that adequate information supported by an objective criteria should be used to determine where, how many and for how long each registration team will be in any given ward and how to register.

It is also a positive sign that the requirements for proof of residence have been eased, but voters and registration officials must be informed of these changes.

In addition Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) needs to assume its legal responsibility to supervise voter registration hence they should also define what the goal is for the mobile voter registration drive (i.e. how many first time voters, aliens, and transfers are the Zec expected to process during the 30-day registration exercise). For credible elections it is critical that everyone who wants to register to vote has a reasonable opportunity to do so.

Q: What is the length of time needed to give adequate notice on voter registration and how key is this notice to meeting the standards of providing voter education to the would-be voters?

 A: What is critical is not the overall length of the voter registration exercise, but the publicity, accessibility of the locations in which voter registration is conducted and for how long does voter registration last. It is, therefore, important for Zec to develop and launch a countrywide voter education campaign informing the electorate about the requirements for successful registration as a voter.
In particular, four categories of potential voters, including first time voters, aliens now allowed to vote, returnees from the Diaspora and transfers will require this information. Mobile voter registration should therefore be conducted in all wards (not districts) for at least several weeks.

This means more teams with professional staff to meet the process.

In addition, based on the recently released 2012 Census Zesn has identified 232 Wards with the largest number of unregistered eligible voters.

The 2012 Census data should be used to target particular areas for extended registration to avoid long queues so everyone who wants to register to vote has a reasonable opportunity to do so.

Q: Our voters’ roll in its current state is said to have been cleaned following the removal of 1 million dead people. Has the Registrar General done enough to publicise the process and spell out the method used to delete these dead people from the voters’ roll? What is supposed to be the methodology?

A: We have raised similar concerns regarding the methodology used by the Registrar General, however, in future before the voters’ roll is finalised, it must be displayed to the public.

This act will enable voters and other stakeholders to ensure only eligible voters are registered and their personal details have been captured correctly.

In the instances where errors have been made, voters should be able to request corrections by filling out a form.

As a result, this display exercise is an excellent opportunity for Zec to instil confidence in the voter registration data to be used on election day.  

Furthermore, without access to an electronic copy of the voters’ roll it is impossible for Zec, political parties and civic organisations to assess the quality of the voters’ roll.

The amended Electoral Act now also makes it mandatory for electronic copies of the voters’ roll to be provided.

Thus, it is advisable that Zec take full advantage of this amendment by making it easily accessible to voters and stakeholders.

The more voters who are able to validate the data, the higher the confidence level will be.

So, Zec would be advised to conduct an information campaign dedicated to informing the public about why, where, when and how they can access the preliminary voters register.

Q: You have covered many international elections as an observer. Does the Zimbabwe Electoral Act provide the platform for holding elections that are consistent with the international best practice?

A: Several shortfalls exist.

Q: What are the shortcomings?

A: The critical issue in Zimbabwe has been and remains implementation of the law.

There have been important reforms in the past that bring Zimbabwe in line with the Sadc region, but what has been lacking is implementation of those reforms.

This is why Zesn observes elections — to provide independent non-partisan information about the conduct of elections so that people can determine for themselves if the laws are being properly implemented.

For example, the law now says clearly that voters requiring assistance to vote can select a person of their own choice, but for the Constitutional Referendum Zesn observers overwhelmingly noted  election officials and police assisting voters.

Also, additional reforms are necessary and these include the creation of a conducive environment, comprehensive voter registration and voter education exercises, transparency in the whole electoral process, early accreditation of local and regional observers and guaranteeing of their security, capacitating Zec with adequate resources.

Furthermore, the law needs to spell out how the proportional representation system will work in practice, the role of the police on polling day, the results management system and announcement.

Q: In the forthcoming elections Zimbabwe will be using the Proportional Representation and the Zebra systems in choosing candidates.

Are these systems best suited to Zimbabwe given the problems that were raised when we were using the First-Past- the-Post?

A: Proportional representation was an issue which people have strongly supported back to the public consultations in advance of the draft 2000 constitution.

Neither proportional representation nor first-past-the-post systems are perfect.

Both have their strengths and both have their limitations.

One advantage the proportional representation system will have here is that it will increase the number of women MPs in Parliament. This is a positive step for the country as we strive to meet the 50-50 gender parity by 2015 as stated in the Sadc Protocol on Gender Development.

Q: How does Zesn rate the new Constitution in terms of providing for the holding of free and fair elections?

A: The new Constitution includes important reforms, but what is critical for credible elections is the harmonisation of existing laws with the new Constitution and for the new Constitution to be implemented.

Laws such as the Electoral Act, Posa and Aippa need urgently to be reviewed and amended to be in conformity with the new Constitution.

Also, the new Constitution and the harmonised laws need time to take effect and change conditions on the ground.

Q: Does a new Constitution guarantee free and fair as well as credible polls?

A: The new Constitution can only provide the framework for an election.

What is critical is the harmonisation of other laws such as the Electoral Act, Posa and Aippa as well as how the elections are conducted by Zec.

There is need to instil public confidence that Zec will properly oversee and conduct the 2013 Harmonised Election.

However, the new Zec chair, Justice Rita Makarau, has taken some initial positive steps to start to rebuild Zec’s credibility and we urge her to continue doing so by ensuring that there is transparency in the whole electoral process.

Q: What is your role in the holding of elections?

A: Zec is the constitutional mandated (body) for conducting all aspects of elections.

As in other Sadc countries, ZESN was founded to SUPPORT the electoral process. This is reflected in our name —Zimbabwe Election SUPPORT Network.

Elections are incredibly important events, but they are also incredibly difficult exercises and hence it is important that (the) whole country work together for their success.

In support of credible elections Zesn: 1) provides information to the public about the election process so that it is easier for voters to participate in elections; 2) deploys trained accredited observers to polling stations to watch the process in order to give the public confidence to go out and vote on election day; and 3) issues independent non-partisan reports on the conduct of elections for ZEC, ALL political parties and public so that they can assess for themselves if elections are consistent with Zimbabwean laws as well as regional and international standards.

Zesn has since its formation in 2000 observed elections in a bid to not only instil confidence in the electorate but also to note if the elections were done within the confines of the law and to offer support based on best international practice.

Q: How has the recent harassment of Zesn by security agents impacted on your mandate as stakeholders in as far as elections are concerned?

A: Unfortunately, the situation in the country remains highly polarised. Such conditions make credible elections impossible.

It is critical that all stakeholders call for and take concrete steps to make a more peaceful environment for everyone.

Zesn is committed to credible elections and to observing 2013 harmonised elections in a non-partisan manner as the organisation does not support or endorse any political party or candidate.

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