'Voter intimidation will impede free vote'

HARARE - Voter intimidation, problems with proof of residence and a high police presence during the ongoing biometric voter registration (BVR) programme will imperil the delivery of a credible 2018 election, British Embassy officials in Harare have told the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).

Embassy officials met with Zec officials last week and raised concerns noted by its observer mission deployed countrywide to assess the BVR process.

Zec started registering voters on September 14 and would end the process on January 15.

The British Embassy spokesperson said the 2018 elections were “important to the international community as credible elections will send a clear signal about the government of Zimbabwe’s commitment to reform.”

The embassy officials met with Zec deputy chief elections officer Utoile Silayigwana and other top Zec officials to raise alarm on their findings in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East.

“At the meeting we welcomed the co-operation we have had from Zec and that after initial teething problems, the BVR equipment is functioning well and staff are generally processing voters quickly,” the British embassy spokesperson said

“We also raised issues of concern, around the difficulty people were having in proving their place of residence, around voter education and what we consider potentially intimidating police presences at many registration centres.

“We thought it was important for Zec to expand its communications to ensure that positive messages about BVR were heard by the widest audiences. Some of the myths — such as BVR will allow parties to know who voters support — should also be dispelled.”

The embassy also engaged Zec over the gender split among those registering and the reasons behind low registration in Bulawayo. The embassy said it welcomed the commission’s intention to assess phase one after it has ended, to ensure smooth running of subsequent phases.

“International observation is a common feature of many elections; we encourage it at British elections.

“The Embassy and other diplomatic missions have been observers at many of the by-elections in this Parliament and this registration process. We expect to register as observers for the elections itself.”

Zec deputy chairperson Emmanuel Magade confirmed the meeting with the embassy but could not shed light on the meeting as he was not part of it.

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