By Farai Chirimumimba
Once again, Zimbabwe is witnessing an intense period stemming from the availability of the voters’ roll that has been a subject of debate in recent weeks with different interpretations of section 21 (4) by several legal minds. Whether one supports President Emmerson Mnangagwa or his main rival Nelson Chamisa, one thing is clear; the presidential contest is close.
In turn, a particularly tight race has inevitably placed the electoral system and those who manage it under great pressure especially in matters concerning the voters’ roll which has been a contagious issue in recent general elections with allegations of ghost voters on the roll. Although the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) undertook an exercise that resulted in a completely new voters’ roll of over 5.6 million voters this has not eliminated fears of ghost voters and double registrants on the roll.
In the last few days, ZEC has moved to clarify its position on some issues pertaining the general election with ZEC Chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba holding a press conference last Monday. She said that once the date of the election has been proclaimed, no person can stop the process and that a candidate has only seven days after Nomination Court to withdraw candidature after printing of the ballot papers, withdrawal of candidature will then not be possible. The latter position of Chigumba has been challenged as a wrong reading of the law with some legal minds arguing that section 49 of the Electoral Act allows a candidate to withdraw from the election even a day before the election.
Although the voters’ roll is now available with British Embassy and Open Parliament (Open Parly), important questions remain regarding the electoral processes around the voters’ roll:
- How effective will ZEC respond to independent audits being undertaken by political parties, candidates and civil society?
Although the European Union had hinted that it was working on availing money for an independent audit of the voters’ roll, ZEC refused this gesture saying that there was no law that placed a burden on them to implement an independent audit of the voters’ roll. That places the audit squarely on whoever wants to undertake it. However, there is no law either that allow ZEC to even consider recommendations of any independent audit that may be implemented by any political party, candidate or organisation.
An audit is important in identifying duplicate registrations, multiple registrations associated with the same ID numbers, and the inclusion of dead voters. The country should not only rely on the de-duplication process that ZEC undertook using the biometrics of voters. However, the process requires a second audit to confirm findings.
- Dead voters
The issue of dead voters has always been a bone of contention in Zimbabwean general election with Justice Chigumba on Monday saying that her commission has worked tirelessly with Register-General Mr. Tobaiwa Mudede to remove dead voters from the roll. Instead boasting confidence this statement actually raised red flags and fears of rigging that has increased the anxiety considering that Mudede has been in charge of the previous elections before the registration of voters was transferred to ZEC in 2013 by the new Constitution.
- Creation of new polling station
While the amended Electoral Act allows ZEC to create new polling stations, there are suspicions that the electoral body want to create completely new stations, a position that ZEC has denied stating that they will only create over 1, 500 new polling centres within existing stations to accommodate a maximum of 1,000 voters on each polling centre that can vote between 7 am and 7pm on election day. This is in response with issues in previous arguments that it was impossible for a polling station to have over 1,000 people voting over a period of 12 hours. The initiative is noble only if the new polling centres are created within the existing centres as ZEC has stated. Any new centre created outside the existing centre will obviously create a burden for political parties and candidates and observers to increase their visibility.
There are more questions that still require clarification for instance the issue of servers, are they safe? ZEC should clarify the law on transmission of results from polling centres to the National Command Centre. It is important for ZEC to explain these and several other issues ahead of the general election to allay any fears of rigging.