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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Legal Monitor - Issue 194
    Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
    May 29
    , 2013

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    • arrests, chaos mar voter registration exercise
    • let us help, civil society says

    A highly anticipated voter registration exercise has become a nightmare, with arrests and chaotic scenes at registration centres leaving huge question marks on the whole process. With elections expected this year, the voter registration exercise is a key step to credible polls. But members of the public, civil society organisations and political parties are crying foul, with some calling for the resignation of Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede.

    Civil society bodies are now calling on government to allow them to assist in voter education programmes after realising authorities are overwhelmed.

    Fifty civil society organisations last week released a damning report card of the exercise, and demanded a fresh exercise, in line with the new constitution.

    In a joint statement, the organisations – ranging from student bodies, churches, trade unions and women’s groups to journalists and artists – said the exercise was hampered by a dearth of information, publicity and limited voter education.

    Special needs groups such as youths, the elderly, women, workers and people living with disabilities were not specially catered for, the groups said in the statement.

    Some centres failed to adhere to stipulated opening and closing times resulting in prospective voters being turned away while requirements were too stringent, the groups said.

    This has resulted in the organisations demanding a fresh mobile voter registration exercise.

    According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), the law provides for such an exercise.

    “Section 6(3) of the Sixth Schedule specifically states that there shall be a special and intensive voter registration and inspection exercise for at least 30 days after the publication of the new Constitution. This does not have to start immediately after the publication date, and will also be dependent on preparedness, as well as adequate human and financial resourcing of ZEC, which will supervise the Registrar-General’s (RG) office during this exercise.

    “There is also a possibility of extending this 30-day period if it does not satisfy the needs of people wishing to register to vote or inspect the voters roll. The 30-day exercise is mandatory and failure to carry out this exercise after the new Constitution comes into effect will be a violation of the new Constitution by ZEC and the RG’s office,” said ZLHR in a statement last week.

    ZLHR and other civil society organisations say government should allow them to assist in voter education.

    But government seems to have its own ideas. Instead of embracing civil society efforts, it has unleashed State agents on bonafide groups trying to assist in voter education.

    This month, police charged the Electoral Resource Centre (ERC), represented by the organisation’s director Tawanda Chimhini with contravening Section 40 (C) (1) (g) of the Electoral Act for allegedly conducting a voter education exercise without authority/ permission from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

    Three volunteers arrested over the weekend while allegedly conducting a voter education exercise have now been turned into State witnesses. Lawyers from ZLHR are representing ERC. In Bulawayo, three Movement for Democratic Change members were arrested after they were found in possession of about 23 receipts from people who had registered to vote.

    Civil society groups say such actions by State agents are not in the spirit of reforms agreed to by coalition partners at the inception of the government in 2009. Since December, State agents have been targeting organisations involved in voter education. Police in December arrested Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) officials Leo Chamahwinya, Dorcas Shereni, Farai Bhani and Tatenda Chinaka. They were accused of contravening Section 31, 136 and 137 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly attempting to defraud the Registrar General’s Office by forging and manufacturing counterfeit copies of certificates of voter registration.

    The following month ZimRights director Okay Machisa was arrested on similar charges. The courts later threw out the cases.

    In February, police in Lupane, Matabeleland North Province, arrested two National Youth Development Trust members and charged them with contravening Section 40 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23) for allegedly possessing voter registration receipts.

    ZLHR, which has been representing most of those arrested in connection with voter education and registration, says Zimbabwe will be unable to hold a credible election if the arrests and harassment continue.

    ZLHR executive director Irene Petras last week said law enforcement agents must allow civil society groups (CSOs) to do their legitimate work without hindrance. Petras said some of the activities that CSOs are currently being harassed for undertaking are not necessarily voter education. She called for more interaction between CSOs and ZEC to make sure that the process of registration and accreditation for voter education is speedily done.

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