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ERC preliminary comments on the Electoral Amendment Bill
Election Resource Centre
July 06, 2011

The Election Resource Centre commends the efforts that the inclusive government continues to make towards the establishment of an environment that allows Zimbabweans to freely express their preferences at the polls. Such efforts have come through negotiations among parties to the GPA and while the ERC appreciates that in a transitional environment such as the one obtaining in Zimbabwe now, attaining comprehensive reforms is nearly impossible; the ERC firmly believes views other than those of political parties should be allowed space and recognition in the election discourse.

Looking at the Electoral Amendment Bill that will be put before parliament as part of the roadmap to elections, the ERC is concerned about a number of issues.

  • Polling station voters' rolls - as already highlighted in previous critiques by the ERC on Electoral Reforms, the adaptation of a polling station based voters' roll can only serve to accommodate further disenfranchisement of voters through displacements especially in the absence of security guarantees for the voter. The ERC believes a broader approach to the roll such as the one prevailing now would allow insecure voters to travel to safer polling stations to cast their ballots within the same ward.
  • New registration of voters - The amendment needs to explicitly state that new voters should submit themselves in person. This would assist in curbing the current scenario where one political party is reportedly simply submitting lists of new voters for registration. Furthermore, if citizen participation is to be free from intimidation and violence during the registration process, the Commission should be accorded authority to determine the political environment conducive for the registration. Such determination should be in consultation with civic groups operating in the area, other election stakeholders and the affected communities.
  • Removal from the roll - The provision that one will be removed from the roll if they have been absent from the constituency for a period of 12 months is not conscious of the realities in Zimbabwe where families and breadwinners are constantly moving and still sending money home. Some of these potential voters can only afford to go home once every year and they maybe unable to secure proof of residence in some of the urban areas they reside due to reluctance by landlords. The provision disenfranchises a significant proportion of voters and the ERC proposes that the provision instead focus more on ensuring access of the registration process to potential voters and allowing voters the opportunity to decide where they would like to register on their own as long as they can provide proof of residence. The ERC also proposes that the issue of proof of residence which, in the past, has regrettably disenfranchised thousands of potential voters owing to its stringent nature. It is proposed that such a provision should be relaxed in a way that does not open up the process to manipulation but which allows Zimbabweans lodging in the towns or rural folk ostracised for their political beliefs and unable to court the favour of traditional leaders to also have an opportunity to exercise their constitutional right.
  • Observers - The agreed position on election observation remains largely limited with such activities being confined to the polling station. Based on past experiences and international best practise, the provision should recognise the need to monitor all election processes by not just domestic observers but international ones as well. Elections in Zimbabwe have been dogged by lack of transparency in the conduct of some of the pre-election activities. The ERC strongly recommends that the focus of the provision should not be to limit the scrutiny of future election processes but to open them up through allowing early invitation of domestic and international observers who can then observe the delimitation, nomination processes, voter registration, ballot printing and the campaign period. The early invitation should also facilitate the smooth accreditation of the same observers so as to protect them from possible obstructions and hindrances in the execution of their duties.
  • Postal Balloting - The issue of the secrecy of the ballot is not adequately addressed by the provisions in the electoral amendment bill which provides for successful applicants for the vote to write their names on the back of the envelopes containing their ballots. Given the controversy surrounding the 2008 postal votes, the amendment needs to protect the secrecy of the ballot through explicitly protecting the successful applicant of the system. Such protection can come through introducing an inner envelop with the name of voter and an outer one which will be shown to election agents and observers. Tightening the process of opening such ballots will also protect the secrecy of the postal ballots.
  • Accreditation of observers - The provision that each and every observer needs to singularly submit themselves in front of the Observer Accreditation Committee is ridiculously cumbersome. Given the fact that in the 2008 elections, nearly 10 000 observers were invited for accreditation, it would be a logistical nightmare for the Committee to meet the invited observers. One of the recommendations given by domestic observation groups has been the need to decentralise the accreditation process to the provinces and the ERC strongly urges that the Amendment focuses more on easing the accreditation process through such decentralisation. The clause should be clear that Accreditation Committees will set up at provincial level for the purposes of accrediting and vetting observers.

The Election Resource Centre believes that the Electoral Amendment Bill's intention in accordance with the Global Political Agreement, is aimed at reforming the electoral framework in Zimbabwe so as to foster a democratic culture that allows for free participation in election processes and a fair environment that accords equal opportunities to election stakeholders. The ERC urges all Zimbabweans and indeed the Parliament of Zimbabwe to celebrate the liberating provisions, tighten obscure clauses that could potentially undermine future elections and reject inhibiting sections in the gazetted bill. Furthermore, the ERC also advises that some of the gains in the Electoral Amendment Bill could be rendered cosmetic as long as the Presidential Powers Temporary Measures Act remains intact which gives the Office of the President latitude to change any existing provision in the Electoral Act at any given time before an election.

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