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Seat transcript: Irene Petras the director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers
for Human Rights
Violet Gonda, SW Radio Africa
July 20, 2013
My guest on the Hot Seat programme is Irene Petras the
director of the Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights and the vice-chairperson of the Zimbabwe
Election Support Network. Welcome Irene.
Thank you very much Violet.
What do you make of the electoral process so far?
Well I think that there’s obviously been a lot of problems
with the special voting process, even the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
itself on the first evening of the special voting, raised a number
of issues of concern. Those didn’t seem to have been addressed
over the next 24 hours and beyond and we did receive a lot of information
about confusion and a lot of disorder in the way the electoral process
was being carried out all around the country, so I think there are
a lot of question marks about how the special voting took place
and even now people are not really sure about the outcome and what
exactly has happened with that special voting process.
In most places there were no materials for voting and polling stations
did not open early. Was all this unforeseen – this chaos?
Or is it all deliberate?
I think to some extent ZEC underestimated the nature of
the exercise and they didn’t put in place enough mechanisms
to ensure that they would be ready for this special voting, although
in terms of the law they are required to make sure that they are
ready on the first day of the vote before the polling stations open
so right from the beginning there was a contravention of the Electoral
Act through those processes. I think that they didn’t
realize how complicated the system was going to be especially with
people voting for, in most cases, three different candidates –
the presidential, the parliamentary and then the local government
candidates as well. But because of the lack of adequate information
made available to political parties, to accredited observers and
the public in general and even those who were supposed to be voting
themselves – a lot of question marks are being raised as to
whether or not it was just inability for them to be organized in
time or whether there was something a bit more suspicious about
the whole exercise.
Gonda: And special
voting was only supposed to take two days and that was on Sunday
and Monday but I understand that some of the polling stations closed
on Tuesday instead of ending on Monday. What did you make of that?
we did receive reports from different polling stations around the
country that they had not closed on time. I myself even witnessed
police still milling around outside Mount Pleasant Hall in Harare
and also Town House. Obviously there was a lot of chaos and a lot
of people who still hadn’t voted so we couldn’t even
get close to the entrance of the polling station in some of the
cases. There’s a lot of confusion about it and I think the
fact that ZEC itself didn’t come out today and make any statements,
clarify what was happening, raised a lot of concerns.
Gonda: And ZEC,
by law, should have made an announcement especially about the extension
– isn’t that what is required by law?
they issued the notice for the special voting, they had indicated
the times for which the polling stations were supposed to be open:
they were supposed to be open from seven in the morning until seven
at night. We did hear some unconfirmed reports that they had then
directed that the polling stations should remain open, in some cases
we heard that is was up until 12 midnight on Monday. In other cases
we also heard, but again unconfirmed, that they had made a directive
that from the time polling stations started to receive ballot papers
they should remain open 12 hours from that point. But again because
they haven’t come out clearly and indicated what has happened
I think that we’re bound by the notice that they gave in terms
of the law and they need to justify any extension that was given.
Gonda: So the
fact that ZEC has not come out clearly to say what is happening
or even if they extended the special vote, what does this mean in
terms of transparency?
obviously it raises concerns. I think that in any electoral process
people deserve to know what is happening. Obviously this is an election
people have been anticipating for a long time, there has not been
a lot of public confidence in previous elections and we would have
hoped that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission would have put in place
systems to ensure that public confidence would be there, that people
would know what processes were going on, what exactly was unfolding
as the days progressed. Unfortunately that was not done and I think
that’s why a lot of questions are being raised now.
about in terms of abiding to the provisions of the Electoral Act
if days were extended, what does that mean in terms of the law?
Petras: I think
that will be something that would have to be argued legally in the
courts, I wouldn’t be able to comment on that right now. I
think first we need to hear from ZEC what exactly has happened in
terms of which law or procedures or regulations they were acting
and then it will be a bit easier to see what happens moving forward.
Gonda: I understand
that quite a number of officers were turned away even though their
applications to vote had been approved so would they be allowed
to participate in the general elections since they failed to vote
in this first round?
Well again that’s questionable because the Electoral Act indicates
that those who have been approved to vote by special vote will not
be able to cast a vote
on the 31st of July but again we have to wait and see what has
happened, how many people are affected. We don’t even have
an indication of the numbers of people who were able to cast their
votes around the country yet so I think we have to wait for that
information and see but as the law stands at the moment, those who
were approved for the special vote should not be able to vote on
Gonda: So ZEC
has not made available statistics of those who voted and those who
were turned away?
publicly to my knowledge, we only heard from ZEC on the evening
of the first day of voting. At that briefing we were just told how
many ballot papers had been sent to different polling stations in
the different provinces but no indications of how many people had
voted. They have undertaken to provide that information in due course
but we haven’t received that formally from the Commission.
Gonda: And what
does the Electoral Act say if a person’s application was approved
and then they failed to vote because they were turned away because
the polling station closed early or there were no voting materials
– will they be allowed though to participate in the elections
even though it was not their fault that they failed to vote during
the special voting process?
unfortunately I don’t think when the laws were drafted, they
anticipated this kind of a situation so the law is silent on that.
All it says is that those who have been approved will vote on days
of special voting and not on the day when the rest of the country
will vote. So again I think we will have to wait and see what exactly
has happened and how in terms of the law, ZEC is going to proceed
if they do want to deal with the issue of people who weren’t
able to cast their votes because of the confusion.
mechanisms are there to make sure there’s no double voting?
normal electoral processes are there so those who would have voted
on the days of special voting have received the indelible ink on
their fingers and also the Electoral Commission is required to cross
out the names of all the people who have been approved for the special
vote on the national voters roll, so by the time we come to the
31st of July, if you go to a specific ward, all the polling stations
in that ward should have the name of that person who has voted during
the special vote, crossed out and marked with an SV to indicate
that they were part of the special voting procedure. So essentially
if somebody were to go on the 31st of July and try and vote, then
their name would already have been crossed out on the voters roll.
Gonda: And is
this an electronic voters roll? By this I’m asking how will
people know that the same people didn’t go to another polling
those questions have been raised with ZEC and they have assured
those who have asked the questions that they are going to cancel
out those votes on the hard copies. I’m not exactly sure how
they’re going to do it on the electronic roll but usually
when we go to the polls there’s a hard copy of the voters
roll at each polling station so at each polling station in a particular
ward, that name should be crossed out. So the measures that are
put in place is that people are supposed to have access to the list
of people who are approved for this special vote and they should
then be able to look at that and then look at the overall voters
roll and make sure that the names have been cancelled out on that
reports say that the process was tiring for observers who at times
had to spend 24 hours without a break at some polling stations.
What challenges did you have to face as monitoring groups?
of the polling stations which I visited, the electoral agents weren’t
present at the polling station and the challenge now came for the
observers because there’s a limit to the number of observers
who can be in any polling station at any particular time so that
restricted the numbers of observers who could actually be inside
the polling station. But the main issue is that everybody should
ensure that enough people are accredited so that they can even take
shifts to be able to observe what is happening and to keep up with
the process on a regular basis. Obviously because of the challenges
over the two days of the special votes, maybe people were not ready
for that but there should be a system in place to ensure that at
all times there are people who in the polling station and they can
be relieved so that there’s a continuous observation of that
process and what’s going on.
Gonda: And so
generally what lessons have you learned as monitoring groups?
been observing through the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, elections
for many years now and I think that the observers are well trained,
they’ve been through the processes before and they do a very
good job. Most of the presiding officers, the polling officers who
come from the Electoral Commission have also been trained and they’ve
been doing the work for a long time so there’s usually cooperation
during the process. I think there just needs to be continued cooperation,
communication and access to information which is required about
different stages of the electoral process. This puts people at ease,
it reduces tension, it increases public confidence and it makes
sure that the moment that you have information about what is happening,
it just calms people down and makes them understand the electoral
process. I think one of the challenges that we’ve had in the
lead up to this election is the inability for a very comprehensive
voter education process. Civil society organizations have not been
able to carry out voter education, very few organizations were accredited
to carry out that kind of education and ZEC itself only was able
to roll out a programme through their voter educators very late.
So I don’t think there’s a lot of information, we also
don’t get a lot of concise, precise and accurate information
from the media about how these processes are supposed to work so
hopefully from now until the 31st of July I would hope that there
would be an increase in advising people, educating them about what
the process requires, what is happening, what they need to bring
with them when they go to vote – all of those things will
be done so that people will be well aware of what is happening and
that will reduce incidents of possible problems at polling stations
on the 31st of July.
Gonda: In terms
of monitors, because ZESN and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights,
as you said, you’ve been doing this for many years but can
you just briefly describe to us what exactly does your work entail?
Petras: In terms
of the law there’s a maximum of six observers who can go into
a polling station at any time so obviously the observers need to
be spread out to make sure that they cover as many polling stations
as possible and there’s also the issues of international observers,
regional observers, there’s quite a contingent of observers
from the SADC Election Observation Mission and many others around.
So the numbers are restricted but basically the observers are trained
just to be able to watch how the process unfolds, to see whether
the materials are available or whether that particular polling station
is ready to have elections, the secrecy of the ballot is protected
and obviously just to see how many people are coming in, how many
are voting and how many are turned away so it’s really a general
observation of the entire process and then they will obviously continue
with looking at how the counting process goes, how the results are
posted outside polling stations, how they are transmitted up the
chain up to the national centre and eventually the announcement
of the results.
Gonda: In the
last election some observer teams especially from the region were
criticized for failing to report thoroughly on the process. How
confident are you that they will get it right this time round?
I think it really depends on how thorough the particular election
observation mission is. Obviously with organizations that have been
working on elections for a long time, we make sure that the evidence
we have or the information that we have is verified before it goes
out so that it is reliable. I did attend the launch of the SADC
Election Observation Mission yesterday and I have to say that I
felt confidence from the head of the Mission that they understand
how critical this election is, the importance of making sure that
they oversee everything that is happening and that they get information
from a range of different stake holders and that they ensure that
voters are able to cast their ballot freely and secretly and also
that the process will ensure that the will of the people at the
end of the day is respected. So I think as long as there’s
engagement, interaction, information is shared with those observation
missions, then I remain hopeful that they understand the seriousness
of this election as any election really is and that we’ll
see a positive outcome just from having the observers on the ground.
say ZEC should release the official special voting list which is
supposed to be open for scrutiny to the public – will you
demand this as monitors?
Petras: It has
already been requested and as you say, in terms of the law, people
are supposed to have access to that. The chairperson of the Commission
had undertaken that the list would be available, we haven’t
had access to that list yet, I’m not sure about the political
parties but obviously we will continue to request that we see that
list because I think that it’s an important part of making
sure that that process is seen to be transparent and people can
ensure that their worries about double voting and that kind of thing
can be allayed if there’s enough information for people to
what you have seen so far, will ZEC be able to conduct credible
elections at the end of this month?
I think that obviously they have underestimated the process of the
special vote and the manner in which it has been conducted thus
far has raised some serious concerns and some legitimate concerns
about their ability to be able to carry out a proper process on
the 31st of July. I do believe that there are some people within
the Commission who want to ensure that the process goes well but
I also believe that there are others who may not be as willing to
ensure that there’s the transparency and the accountability
and the professionalism that’s there. Civil society for a
long time has been calling for reforms to be taken both in the Zimbabwe
Electoral Commission and also the Registrar General’s Office
particularly when it comes to issues around the voters roll, voter
registration and that kind of thing and the way that the last three
days have unfolded somehow highlights the need for those reforms
to take place. I hope that it won’t be too late but a lot
of it will depend on how ZEC proceeds from here, how willing they
are to ensure that different mechanisms are put in place to strengthen
the process and how willing they are to share information which
legitimately people are asking for about what has happened over
the last three days.
you very much Irene Petras for talking to us on the programme Hot
so much Violet.
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