The Electoral Act, even with its new amendments, will deny the vote to several classes of citizens:
• Members of the Diaspora: Citizens living outside Zimbabwe cannot be registered as voters and so will not be able to vote. This is because section 23 of the Electoral Act insists that persons must be resident in a constituency before they can be registered on a voters roll in that constituency.
In any event, ZEC provided no facilities for citizens outside the country to register on the new voters roll, so no one in the Diaspora will have been registered on any roll unless they came back to Zimbabwe to apply for registration.
• Hospital patients, persons manning essential services, etc.: Voters who cannot go to a polling station to vote on election day will not be able to cast their votes unless they are permitted to vote by post – and the only people who will be allowed a postal vote are election officials, members of the security services on electoral duty, and Zimbabwean diplomats overseas. This is the effect of sections 56(1) and 72 of the Electoral Act, and is stated expressly in section 22A(3). Hence many people – doctors and nurses, hospital patients, fire officers, long-distance drivers, even prisoners – will be disenfranchised.
• Prisoners: Although the Lancaster House constitution denied the vote to prisoners serving sentences of more than six months, the present Constitution contains no such exclusion, so prisoners have the same right as all other citizens to vote in elections. The Electoral Act makes no provision for them to exercise their rights, and since no arrangements were made for them to be registered on the new roll most prisoners will be excluded by that fact alone.
Can the result of the forthcoming general election can be regarded as representing the views of the people of Zimbabwe if so many citizens have been denied the right to express their views through the ballot?
2. The Independence and Transparency of ZEC
Under section 235 of the Constitution the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] is supposed to be independent and not subject to the direction or control of anyone. Even under the amended Electoral Act, however, ZEC’s independence will continue to be limited by the following provisions:
• Section 9(5): ZEC does not have a general power to dismiss its Chief Elections Officer without the approval of the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
• Section 12(1)(e): ZEC is not allowed to accept donations or grants from anyone without the approval of the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Finance.
• Section 40H: The accreditation of election observers is not left to ZEC but is put largely in the hands of an Observers Accreditation Committee on which government is given excessive representation.
• Section 192(4): ZEC cannot make regulations regarding electoral procedures – or anything else – without the approval of the Minister of Justice.
Although section 194(1)(h) of the Constitution requires all tiers of government – including ZEC – to foster transparency by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information, this is not reflected in the Electoral Act and ZEC has not been transparent about many issues. For example, it has not published its procedural manuals, has refused to put the contract for printing ballot papers to public tender, and has not disclosed how many of its staff have security force backgrounds.
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