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Electoral Act amendments questioned
March 23, 2004
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HARARE - Civil
society in Zimbabwe on Monday condemned a move by the government
to amend the Electoral Act, saying the amendment would undermine
next year's parliamentary elections.
"The planned changes to the Electoral Act will result in the tightening
of the operations of the government-appointed Electoral Supervisory
Commission (ESC) and unless there are fundamental changes to the
process of holding elections, next year's elections would be easily
declared not free and fair," chairman of the Zimbabwe Election Support
Network (ZESN), Reginald Matchaba-Hove, told IRIN.
The Electoral Amendment Bill, published in the Government Gazette
last week, proposes changes to several clauses, particularly pertaining
to voter registration, the voters' roll and postal ballots.
In a move perceived as an attempt to elbow NGOs out of voter education,
the Bill proposes that only the ESC be allowed to conduct voter
Funds for voter education would have to be sourced locally, and
foreign funds could only be donated to the ESC, which would then
distribute them to organisations authorised to conduct voter education.
The Bill, expected to be presented to parliament for debate, also
says those eligible for postal ballots would include members of
the military away on duty, diplomatic staff and staff away on electoral
Matchaba-Hove said the proposed amendments were similar to those
sanctioned into law by President Robert Mugabe just before the 2002
March presidential election.
Although the laws were later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme
Court, they enabled surviving members of the military, like Brigadier
Douglas Nyikayaramba, to be appointed chief elections officer, with
members of the army, the police and other civil servants conducting
"The planned electoral amendments are in clear violation of the
Southern Africa Development Community, (SADC) Parliamentary Forum
on norms and standards for holding elections, which states that
no civil servants should conduct elections," Matchaba-Hove said.
"Civic society has always called for the creation of an independent
electoral commission to run elections, while observers and monitors
would be drawn from civic groups. The independent commission would
be responsible for the entire electoral process, from registration
right up to the counting process," he added.
Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Commission,
which has been agitating for a new constitution, said there was
nothing new about the proposed amendments.
"We have had these laws before - they are just reproducing laws
that we have had before, and have been thrown away by the supreme
court, because they violated certain provisions of the constitution,"
Madhuku told IRIN.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change has threatened
to boycott next year's parliamentary elections, arguing that the
playing field was not level. They also alleged that if these elections
were held in conditions similar to those of the 2002 presidential
poll, it would be easy to rig them.
The opposition, along with most Western observers, condemned the
2002 presidential election as flawed.
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