ELECTORAL amendments still remain a pipedream after Justice minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi on Tuesday negated almost all proposed amendments to the Electoral Amendment Bill by MDC-T chief whip, Innocent Gonese in the National Assembly.
Gonese’s proposed amendments were mostly to do with ensuring that electoral fraud is nipped in the bud so that the forthcoming 2018 elections are deemed free and fair.
Although the National Assembly sat well up to 8pm on Tuesday, Gonese and other opposition MPs put up a spirited fight trying to convince Ziyambi to include his proposed amendments into the Bill. This came to naught and all that later transpired during debate on proposed amendments was name calling by MPs which could have easily degenerated into a fight.
Some of the proposed amendments by Gonese that Ziyambi refused to incorporate into the Electoral Amendment Bill were to do with printing of the ballot paper and acquisition of indelible ink where the opposition suggested that this should be done through public tender.
The opposition legislators felt that if printing of ballot papers was transparent, then this would ensure that elections are adjudged free and fair, but Zanu PF legislators were of the opinion that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must have the monopoly to choose where they are printed as at the end of voting ballot papers were reconciled during counting and accounted for.
“In 2013 there was suspicion over the ballot paper printed and we want to alleviate all those,” Gonese said.
Bulawayo South MP, Eddie Cross added: “The major issue at this point in this country is that people do not trust Zec.
“Already there is suspicion that the tender has already been awarded to a company associated with Zanu PF and we cannot allow that.”
Opposition MPs said if elections were going to be free and fair, the issue of printing of ballot paper must be transparent and should be decided through tender with all contesting political parties involved.
“Elections are not contested by one political party and therefore it should not be one political party which should decide where ballot papers are,” Binga North MP, Prince Dubeko Sibanda said.
“What are you hiding from the ballot papers that you do not want everyone to see? Unless if Emmerson Mnangagwa will be beaten just like what happened in Kwekwe.”
Zanu PF legislators fiercely rejected the suggestions by the opposition, with former deputy Home Affairs minister, Obedingwa Mguni saying that there was nothing to fear about the company to print ballot papers because at the end of the day these were counted and reconciled after counting of ballots.
As the debate turned stormy, MDC-T legislators threatened that they will not participate in the elections unless there is transparency in the company which prints ballot papers.
Some Zanu PF legislators shouted “Go hang”, resulting in a fierce exchange of words between Sibanda and Zanu PF MPs.
“You are a coup government,” Sibanda shouted.
This resulted in finger pointing until sergeant at arms Nicholas Marufu marched Sibanda out of the House.
During the melee, Ziyambi also lost it and, angered by Sibanda’s rants that the current government was “a coup government,” he retaliated by saying that opposition MPs were empty vessels.
Gonese also complained about assisted voters where he said in previous elections people with disabilities and even teachers, were forced to claim illiteracy so that they could be assisted to vote.
His suggestions were that assisted voting should only be applied to persons whose entries in the voters roll state that they needed assistance.
On voter education, Ziyambi dismissed Gonese’s suggestions that Zec must not have a monopoly over the provision of voter education.
Ziyambi said he could not allow Gonese’s proposed amendments because currently the electoral law allows Zec and political parties to do voter education. He said if he allowed other organisations or groups to do so, then there would be a possibility that voter education will end up being done by non-governmental organisations with a regime change agenda.
Gonese also had a very torrid time trying to convince Ziyambi to ensure that the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission assumes a monitoring role instead of an observation role during elections.
His proposed amendments that the ZHRC should have a monitoring function instead of being observers was objected by Ziyambi, saying that he can only allow them to do so if the monitoring role is confined to ZHRC staff only and not their election agents.
“We can only allow them to monitor if the monitoring is done by the ZHRC and its staff only, and not their agents. We do not want a situation where they accredit foreign agents and give them a monitoring role,” Ziyambi said.
“The ZHRC also wants to be accredited by Zec and yet Zec accredits observers and not monitors. The moment they subject themselves to accreditation then they have to subject themselves to Zec rules for observers. However, the constitution does not require them to accredit. They can still monitor and promote human rights without accreditation.”
The minister only agreed with Gonese on the amendment to do with the number of ballot papers to be printed. He said the law will ensure that they will not be more than 10% of the number of voters on the roll.
Gonese said past elections in Zimbabwe had witnessed excessive printing of ballot papers by more than 35% of the number of registered voters.
Several other amendments suggested by Gonese were rejected, including the amendment suggested by Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga pertaining to adding of issues of gender parity in the Electoral Act preamble.
Ziyambi said issues of gender parity will be included in some sections of the Electoral Bill, but not in the preamble.
With most of the suggestions to amend the Electoral Act by the opposition rejected, it remains to be seen whether the forthcoming elections will be adjudged free and fair without most electoral reforms called for by opposition parties being implemented.