Zimbabwe heading for another disputed polls as time runs out for reforms

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HARARE – Zimbabwe is seen likely to be heading to yet another round of disputed electoral outcomes unless electoral reforms, including the much talked about alignment of the Electoral Act to the 2013 constitution, are not carried out ahead of 2023’s general elections, according to an independent advocacy think-tank, the Electoral Resource Centre (ERC).

This warning, according to a local publication, comes two weeks after the European Union Election Observer Mission expressed concern at the slow pace of electoral reforms after the contentious 2018 polls.

The EU EOM follow-up delegation, which was in the country two weeks ago, said progress on the implementation of reforms has been limited, with the majority of the priority ones yet to be addressed.

The ERC says Zimbabwe is running out of time to implement reforms and improve voter registration.

“We have up to six months to make sure that the laws are in place and operational because the procedure is that, any law that comes into effect six months before the election will no longer be used in that election,” Solomon Bobosibunu, the ERC programmes manager, told The NewsHawks.

“It has been four years now since the last election, and we are already approaching the next elections. Most of those recommendations have to do with the operation, administrative functions and, to some degree, law changes.”

The ERC said Zec has been insincere in providing the voters’ roll for analysis ahead of the upcoming election, thereby contravening section 21 of the Electoral Act.

The ERC wrote to Zec on several occasions requesting the voters’ roll, but to no avail.

“We have a High Court order obtained in 2018 with regards to the 2018 voters roll that Zec must provide us with the voters’ roll whenever we request. If there is any reason not to give us, this should be put in writing and it should be justifiable by law because this is a public document. Though independent, Zec is covered by the constitution of Zimbabwe,” he said.

Bobosibunu said a defective voters’ roll would undermine the credibility of the 2023 elections.

The ERC produced findings showing defects on the voters’ roll that was produced by Zec on 31 January 2022, if not addressed, would distort the 2023 election.

The assessment was done through a computer test on the 2018 and 2022 voters’ rolls comparing and tracking processes implemented by Zec such as relocation of registered voters, removal of deceased persons, and distribution of data across demographic categories.

A total of 98 414 (1.43%) registrants were deleted from the 2018 full voters’ roll which contains 5 606 026 people, according to a statement titled “An Independent Analysis on the 2022 Voters’ Roll”, produced by Babra Bhebe, the ERC executive director.

There were also 16 constituencies where more than 3% of registrants were deleted –nine of these being in Matabeleland South.

Of the nine, Matobo South and Insiza lost most registrations, at 3.57% and 3.01% respectively.

In addition, 20 constituencies had less than 1% of registrants deleted from the 2018 final voters’ roll. Mashonaland Central, East, and West accounting accounted for 10 of the constituencies.

Statistics of deleted registrants were more than new ones, with 21 440 (0.38%) being added to the 2022 voters’ roll.

Among other findings, 8 313 registrants were moved to a new constituency in the 2022 voters’ roll, with 1 435 1 427 and 207 being moved from Glen View South, Kwekwe Central, and Zengeza East respectively.

“It is procedural for people to be moved, but they should be informed in time by the Electoral Commission. In this case, they have not been moved to farther places, they have been moved around the same polling compounds,” Bobosibunu said.

More defects have been visible in polling locations with 5 821 (0.10%) people registering at different polling locations, but their addresses remaining the same.

“It may affect voters if they knew that they were posted to another station. It might cause delays, frustration and an increase in the time a voter may take at the polling station,” he said.

In the recent by-elections, Epworth Local Board Ward 2 had 224 registrants moved to a different ward but with the same address.

The ERC said the government, Parliament and other stakeholders should act fast to ensure the 2023 election does not suffer the same defects as previous ones.

Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda said Parliament is seized with completing alignment of laws to the constitution and the Electoral Law reforms.

“These efforts are meant to ensure that the 2023 harmonised elections are free, fair, transparent and credible to the extent that they reflect the true democratic will of the people of Zimbabwe,” he told a stakeholders’ workshop on electoral reforms.

Civic society has been pushing for the gazetting of the Electoral Reform Amendment into law to improve the administration of elections.

The main opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) says while it has been pushing for reforms, little is being done to implement them.

“We need equal access for all political players to the public media, an end to the abuse of national institutions that are used as implementing arms of the ruling party. Also, election results should be verified by party agents before announcing, and an end to violence, abductions and partisan arrests,” said Ian Makone, the CCC secretary for elections.

“If there was such will, all the measures requiring legislation and publication of regulations would have been catered for.”

Time is running out for the implementation of electoral reforms.

“Yes, the window is closing. They think we are stupid, but we are ahead of them,” Makone said.

“The constitution was designed for orderly expression of political views to enable informed choices, not this hide-and-seek.”

“What public interest is served by Zec refusing to issue a voters’ roll to stakeholders? We are aware of the resistance stakeholders are experiencing in this regard, and we too will exhaust all legal means for a resolution to this impasse.”