BVR exercise: Zec racing against time

HARARE - With just a month and a few days remaining before the biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise for 2018 elections closes, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) seems far from reaching its target to register seven million voters.

On the other hand, the exercise has been marred by challenges, with electoral observer groups noting intimidation and lack of voter education that is disfranchising potential voters.

The blitz, which has been divided into four phases, began on October 10 and will close on December 19.

Out of the targeted seven million voters, Zec has so far registered a little over two million — only 28 percent of the target.

Harare recorded the highest number of registrants with 309 951, while Bulawayo had the lowest of 71 536.

Moreover, observers have noted low turnout amongst youths and persons with disabilities (PWDs).

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said it continued to receive disturbing reports of intimidation of observers and citizens by traditional leaders and political players.

“For instance, a Zesn observer in ward 1 Rushinga was summoned and admonished by the Chief of that area for observing the BVR process in his area without seeking his permission first. 

In addition, cases of intimidation whereby registrants are being asked to submit serial numbers on their registration slips continue to be reported in areas such as Honde Valley ward 28, Nyanga North Ward 3, Greystone Park at New March Shopping Centre ward 18, and Bikita East among others,” the Network said in a recent report.

“Zesn has observed that the registration process is being slowed down by the scarcity of commissioners of oaths, resulting in potential registrants waiting for hours before their documents are certified. In ward 28 of Honde Valley in Mutasa North, a Zanu PF councillor threatened one of the headmasters who are providing commissioners of oath services with unspecified action if he continued to write letters confirming residency of potential registrants.

The councillor indicated that this service was the prerogative of the village head only.”

Zesn has also noted that several centres are inaccessible to PWDs, for example Shiku School in Runde Ward 4 and Mount Belingwe in ward 4 Mberengwa North.

“Zesn implores Zec to engage with the traditional leaders in order to discontinue the abuse of their mandate and desist from interfering in electoral processes,” Zesn said.

The first phase ran from October 10 to 26, while the second phase began on October 29 to end on November 13.

The third phase will take start on November 16 and end on December 1.

The last phase is set to run from December 4 to 19.

Zec recently appointed about 500 additional commissioners of oaths to help in certifying proof of residence, however, opposition MDC said the requirement should be scrapped as it is blocking other people from registering to vote.

“Whilst the appointment of additional commissioners of oaths is certainly a step in the right direction, there is still need to actually completely do away with this requirement of proof of residence.

It is virtually logistically impossible to have a commissioner of oaths at each end every BVR centre in the country. Why don’t we just scrap this proof of residence requirement to enable every eligible voter to register without much hustle?” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.

Human rights group Zimrights said there was lack of coordination of the process of mobile voter registration and that of mobile identity documents registration has left citizens in some parts of the country short-changed and crying foul.

“One such area is in Insiza District, Matabeleland South, where the mobile BVR blitz went into the community ahead of the Registrar-General’s office’s exercise of issuing national IDs, birth and death certificate.

“As a result, many people in the area could not take advantage of the BVR blitz,” the organisation said in their update on the process.

“However, after the mobile identity registration eventually came some of the people have been willing to go and register in Filabusi, which is the district capital, though many have been facing challenges of transportation.

“But still challenges remain with the low publicity of the mobile registration for identity documents as some people were still not aware of its presence in the area.”

“In Mahole, Filabusi in Matabeleland South the teams encountered reports — similar to those emanating from many parts of the country — of people asking for serial numbers of voter registration slips from those that register to vote.

As a result of the intimidation or past elections trauma, some people in areas like Filabusi did not want to have their biometric features taken. In areas such as Baganti, youths were the ones mainly affected by lack of identity documents.”

Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT) which also has observer teams on the ground said there was need to boost voter education to demystify the myths around the BVR process, after noting several violations and intimidations in several wards across the country.

“HZT has observed that the BVR related human rights violations being recorded across the country points to the lack of a robust voter education exercise. An extensive voter education campaign by Zec would have helped to demystify the falsehoods, myths and threats being peddled around the BVR process,” the peace group said.

“HZT is worried by the lack of information especially in rural areas. The organisation will continue to monitor human rights violations around the registration process especially in political hotspot areas.

The organisation’s 24-hour rapid response system is also on standby to respond to the cases that require immediate assistance.”

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