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ZESNís response to the Gazetted Electoral Amendment Bill
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)
March 24, 2004

Convinced that there is urgent need for an overhaul of the electoral laws in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network expresses concern over the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act released last week. We feel that the proposed Electoral Amendment Bill renders the electoral reforms exercise nugatory.

There has been a previous attempt to introduce the Electoral Amendment Bill in Parliament. First, the General Laws Amendment Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2001 and it was struck down by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe due to procedural deficiencies in the passing of the Bill into Law. Statutory Instrument 41B of 2002 was then promulgated and most of the provisions were similar to those of the General Laws Amendment. In July 2002, an Electoral Amendment Bill was introduced again in Parliament whose provisions were again the General Laws Amendment through the back door. The Bill did not go through the second reading and lapsed after the Parliamentary Legal Committee and Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs made adverse comments on the same Bill. As ZESN, we feel that this Bill is a reincarnation of the previous Bill. It is surprising how this Bill has taken so long to be passed.

ZESN feels that the provisions of the proposed Electoral Bill will perpetuate an already flawed electoral system. The following are some of our major concerns:

Section 19C of the Electoral Bill gives monopoly to the Electoral Supervisory Commission to conduct voter education even though there is a marginal relaxation by allowing the Commission to appoint and register persons who may assist in providing voter education. This category is where most civic society organisations that have been conducting voter education will be appointed to assist in conducting voter education.

However, according Section 19C(I)(e) of the Bill one of the requirements for eligibility to conduct voter education is the restrictive stipulation that such persons should be funded solely by local contributions. This is of special concern considering the fact with the current economic environment local contribution to civic organisations is inconceivable. In an about turn, the Bill stipulates that the Commission is the only body, which can receive foreign funding for purposes of voter education, which it may allocate to the aforementioned persons.

Amendment of Section 20 of the Electoral Act is aimed at having proof of residence as a requirement for voter registration. This was once ruled against in the courts of law where it was decided that the requirements are intrusive of oneís privacy. It is the feeling of ZESN that this could encourage voter apathy.

On the issue of postal ballots, an amendment to Section 61 of the principal Act is made and restricts the facility of postal voting to members of the diplomatic service of the Government of Zimbabwe, disciplined forces, constituency registrars, presiding, polling and counting officers and the spouses of the above mentioned persons. ZESN is of the feeling that the facility should be widened to include people in the diaspora such as students, Zimbabweans working abroad, persons seeking medical treatment, people working for international organisations and spouses of such people. If such people are not accorded, the opportunity to vote there will be gross violation of their right to vote.

The Bill seeks to amend Section 34 of the Act by granting vast powers to the Registrar General, the constituency registrar to alter the voters roll at any time to correct any errors or omissions. This could be open to abuse.

We are advocating for Parliament to look closely into these issues as we feel that the Bill will disadvantage the electorate should it be made into law.

ZESN is a coalition of 37non-governmental organisations, which advocate for democratic, transparent and free and fair electoral processes.

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