Zlhr escalates voting booths tiff

HARARE - The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (Zlhr) has written to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) protesting the decision by the electoral management body to change the positioning of voting booths for theJuly 30 harmonised polls.

In a letter dated July 17, 2018, Zlhr said the new requirement that voters should cast their ballots while facing Zec officials ostensibly to prevent them from taking pictures of their voter preferences violates the Electoral Act.

“If the location of the polling booths is maintained with voters casting their ballots in a manner where election officers can see them, voters will not be guaranteed that the votes they will cast will be done in secret,”said Zlhr, noting that this will potentially violate section 86 of the Electoral Acts by undermining the secrecy of the vote.

“The secrecy of the vote as guaranteed in section 67 of theConstitution can only be upheld if all voters feel secure to cast their votes in secret (where no one can observe them choosing a candidate of their choice).”

The human rights body said the change will also expose voters to intimidation from political parties.

“We are greatly concerned that the location of polling booths may greatly affect the confidence of some voters, who may become vulnerable and doubtful of the secrecy of the votes they cast. We are also greatly concerned that some voters in the remote and out lying areas may not access adequate voter education on this change in the location of the polling booths and how the secrecy of their vote will remain guaranteed.

“This may expose such voters to random acts of intimidation by some political parties. ZLHR urges Zec to revert to the previous set up where the polling allowed voters to vote in secrete behind a polling booths where no Zec official can observe them.”

Recently, Zec chief elections officer, Utoile Silaigwana, said the redesign of the positioning of the ballot booth was meant to bar voters from taking selfie photos with their ballots during elections.

There are also fears the photos could set the stage for vote-buying or voter intimidation that has been reported to be rampant.

Silaigwana said the change in the positioning was meant to stop ballot selfies by voters who could be tempted to show support for favoured candidates through postings on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

But critics said Zec cannot curtail free speech based on a hypothetical danger.

Meanwhile, BUILD Zimbabwe Alliance leader, Noah Manyika, has called for the resignation of Zec chairperson, Priscilla Chigumba, for failing to address the opposition parties’ concerns.

“Build Zimbabwe Alliance calls for the Zec to immediately address all key opposition concerns, failing which we call for the resignation of the chairperson and commissioners of the Zec to be followed by an impartial reconstitution of this body. There is no other way to restore the trust so urgently required,” Manyika said in a statement.

“It is with grave concern that we note the continuing impasse between the Zec and many in the opposition regarding the perceived fairness of the election process. We have made statements regarding our own concerns in the past.”

Manyika said the situation has now reached a critical stage and Zec must put the matter to rest by addressing their grievances.

Over the past weeks, Zimbabwe’s opposition parties have raised concerns about the printing of the ballot paper,the integrity of the voters’ roll, the location of polling stations and the questionable process of postal votes amongst others.

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