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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Special voting a sham
    Election Resource Centre
    July 17, 2013

    The Election Resource Centre adds its voice to the observations on the shambolic nature of the special voting process that was conducted by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on the 14th and 15th of July 2013. The election process for Zimbabwe’s civil servants, including police details and soldiers who will be on national duty on the actual polling day on the 31st of July, was fraught with irregularities that have cast doubt on the ability of ZEC to deliver and conduct an efficient, free, fair and credible election.

    The sum effect is that less than 10% of those eligible to vote were able to exercise their democratic and constitutional right to vote. The shortcomings are unacceptable, coming as they do when Zimbabwe is expected to conduct a credible election that produces an acceptable outcome. This wholly unacceptable process continues the same chaotic pattern that began with the first and second voter registration process where Zimbabweans were not sufficiently afforded the opportunity to participate in this crucial election. If this trend continues, we can be sure that elections on 31 July will be anything but credible.

    There were reports of voting starting late in most polling stations mainly due to the late arrival of ballot envelopes. In a press conference on Sunday the 14th of July 2013, ZEC Deputy Chairperson, Joyce Kazembe admitted that the delivery of ballot envelopes to polling stations on the first day were delayed because the electoral body had not foreseen such logistical challenges – that the printers would delay printing the ballot envelopes. In fact these ballot envelopes ought to have been in the districts the day before the start of special voting so that they could be delivered promptly on the first day or even before that.

    The Commission also intimated that the delay in the in the printing was a result of the nomination court challenges that still have to be resolved, something that impacted on the printing of ballot papers.

    The conduct by the electoral commission is in contravention of Section 81E (1) of the Electoral Act, which states that ZEC has to set up special voting stations at the district centres, and that these stations must be ready for voting on the first day fixed for special voting. However, many voting stations across the country were not ready on the first day, and on the last day of voting (the 15th of July, the process had not ended on time, with voting exceeding well into the night.

    The electoral body also failed to provide adequate information to the public and to the persons voting during the special voting process because the body has an obligation to inform the nation on how many people successfully applied to vote, the number of applications approved and the number of ballot papers that were reproduced. The provision of such information serves to nullify unforeseen episodes of confusion. And such information should be in the public domain.

    Section 81C of the Electoral Act states that persons wishing to cast a special vote must apply for authorization to the commission at least 14 days before first special voting day. The Chief Elections Officer must number all such applications for authorization. Added to that, Section 81D (1) states that the Chief Elections Officer must notify successful applicants and provide them with written authorization to cast special votes. He or she must inform applicants when and where they must cast their vote. Accordingly the late provision of ballot envelopes to the voters in this process raises more questions than answers. If ZEC had paid due diligence to fully complying with the requirements at law, the process of special voting should have been a smooth sailing affair, with persons whose applications had been approved just casting their votes without the delays that were experienced.

    However, all these challenges that ZEC has and is facing as they conducted the special voting points to one thing – that the election in Zimbabwe was rushed, without due care being taken to adequately preparing and laying ground for the conduct of an efficient and credible poll. The fact that ballot papers were delayed because some of the challenges with regards to candidate nomination for some wards and constituencies have not been resolved, point to the fact that the election itself was fast tracked.

    The administrative challenges also give credence to the fact that elections in Zimbabwe should have been process driven, not date driven. Here we note the words of Justice Malaba in his dissenting comments on Constitutional Court judgment CCZ 1/13 that “Choosing the precise date to hold the first elections is therefore a matter of utmost importance to be handled with the greatest care.”

    The administrative challenges also give credence to the fact that elections in Zimbabwe should have been process driven, not date driven. As it stands, ZEC now finds itself with a mammoth task of administering these crucial elections in a sober manner, with the electoral body now hamstrung and held hostage by acts of political expediency, and has been overtaken by its inability to put in place mechanisms for the conduct of a credible poll.

    It is also poignant to point out that the special voting process was conducted amidst claims by some of the other political players alleging that the numbers of security personnel in particular, police who applied for special voting, were excessive given the actual size of the police. Fears also abound that the security personnel are being intimidated into voting for one political party.

    Currently it is not clear what is going to happen to those voters who were unable to cast their vote from 14-15 July. Are they, like many former “aliens”, and like those who were unable to register due to the same logistical failures by election administrators, also going to lose their right to vote? Who else will be disenfranchised due to operational shortcomings?

    Yet we note that those chosen to be electoral commissioners in Zimbabwe have been chosen “for their competence in the conduct of affairs in the public or private sector” Constitution of Zimbabwe Section 238 (4). Since the beginning of this electoral process, our electoral administrators have demonstrated a worrying level of incompetence. And we are left with some questions. If ZEC failed to print and deliver only 80 000 ballots and operate a few hundred polling stations properly is it going to be able to print millions of ballots papers and dispatch them to the 10 000 polling stations that it has identified for the election? Clearly there is a procurement problem at ZEC and as election stakeholders, citizens and voters; we demand full disclosure as to what happened with the printing of ballot papers and ballot envelopes.

    Reports that in cases where there were misprinted ballot papers, polling officers told voters to vote anywhere reflects disquieting conduct which has been evident even at the highest levels since the beginning of this process. Namely that our election administrators are more concerned about legality ‘ ticking boxes’ so that they can move on to the next step, never mind the quality of the process. Hence voter registration had to stop even if people were not registered because continuing it would have broken the law even though terminating it violated voters’ rights to choose.

    Resultantly, we urge ZEC to make sure that they put in place mechanisms and procedures of ensuring that the harmonised elections are credible, and conducted in an efficient manner. The ERC notes that the SADC spearheaded negotiations in Zimbabwe which culminated in the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU), had as its major signpost, the creation of enabling environment for free, fair and credible elections in the country, itself the panacea to the long standing challenge of legitimacy that dogged the governance body-politic of the country in 2008. We are two weeks away from the Election Day and prospects for a credible election are diminishing by the day.

    Painful and embarrassing as it may be we urge election officials and other political stakeholders such as the government and the courts to seriously consider postponing these polls until all outstanding issues such as nomination court challenges and legal challenges to the special voting have been resolved and until ZEC can show that it is ready from an administrative and operational point of view to conduct credible polls.

    Here we cite the example of Nigeria in April 2011 when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed elections due to logistical failures not once but twice. In the end that election was one of the better elections in Nigeria’s history). We urge ZEC to go back to the president and other stakeholders and request for a change in the election date in order to deliver a quality election. Otherwise ZEC risks further shame and embarrassment and the continuing disenfranchisement of more and more Zimbabweans. Failure to admit to these challenges and request for such postponement, we are left with suspicions that ZEC is a complicit actor in all this confusion and chaos.

    In the meantime, ZEC owes Zimbabweans some answers with regards to the following questions, and has an obligation to clarify the same

    • How many applications for the special voting were successful, by category?
    • How many ballots were printed?
    • How many ballots were sent to the special voting station?
    • How many votes were cast by polling stations?

    The ERC also implores ZEC, in the name of transparency and accountability, and taking into consideration the controversy surrounding special voting, that a transparent process be done when ZEC crosses out the names on the ward-based polling lists for the July 31st elections as required by the law (Section 81D (3) of the Electoral Act.

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