Call to overhaul electoral laws

BULAWAYO – There are growing calls for comprehensive electoral reforms to allow the national elections management body — the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) — to carry its mandate without alleged Executive interference.

These calls were repeated in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces at the weekend in the on-going countrywide consultations by the Justice and Parliamentary Affairs portfolio committee which is gathering people’s views on a Bill proposing to amend the Electoral Act.

The Bill seeks to introduce amendments that specifically deal with the voter registration process and the proposed amendments largely cater for the introduction of the biometric voter registration (BVR) system.

“There is need for a complete overhaul of the whole Electoral Act so that it reflects the aspirations of our people not this thing of piece-meal amendments which will cost taxpayers’ money because if the whole Act is not amended then in the next six-seven months you will be coming back to us, again using taxpayers’ money.

“We have always said that the Electoral Act should make sure that there is no Executive interference in the work of Zec and that the composition of its staff should be nonpartisan unlike what the case is right now where we know there is a military element in the commission and that its funding is controlled by the Executive through a minister who should approve any funding outside government. That is unacceptable and should be corrected through these amendments,” said Tinei Mukwewo, who was representing Abammeli Lawyers for Human Rights at the Small City Hall in Bulawayo.

One participant in Gwanda said the Bill should cater for thousands of families whose children did not have birth certificates and national identity cards as a result of difficulties presented by the 1980s’ disturbances in the region.

“We even want it to be included in the Act that the people of this region be allowed to get birth certificates, national identity cards to allow them to register as voters without stringent conditions being attached because of the region’s historical background of disturbances,” said the participant who refused to be named.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said Parliament should consider the constitutional principles that set out the minimum thresholds of free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.

Zesn said that the electoral framework of Zimbabwe requires comprehensive and holistic amendments to ensure it is in conformity with the Constitution and regional guidelines on good governance and elections.

“So far, the piece-meal approach adopted in the amendments represent the objectionable approaches that have been previously adopted in the past, of amending parts of the sum to the Electoral Act.

“Zesn observes that some of the proposed amendments deal with issues that could have been addressed by previous amendments if the process had been done meticulously.

“Of greater concern is that the current amendment Bill only focuses on a narrow, specific issue related to voter registration,” the civic group said in its position paper on the proposed amendments.

“The Bill once again fails to address all key provisions of concern that still fall foul of the Constitution. The passage into law or otherwise of this Bill will not resolve the broader problem of incomplete and piece-meal amendments to the electoral law.

Despite the latest proposed amendments, it is submitted that several legal provisions in the Electoral Act still require revision, to bring them in line with the Constitution.

“The existence of potentially unconstitutional provisions within the Electoral Act and other relevant legislative pieces has a bearing on the holding of a free, fair, peaceful and credible election as envisaged by the Constitution and the Sadc principles and guidelines governing the conduct of democratic elections,” added.

The nationwide consultations have been in the past criticised for not capturing the views of the ordinary people.

Critics say the proposed amendments represent a continuing piece-meal approach to amending the Electoral Act.

This is the third time the Act is being amended in just less than four years since Zimbabwe wrote the Constitution in 2013.