THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has effectively shut the doors on opposition parties, saying they could only raise complaints over the quality of the voters’ roll and other election-related matters after the July 30 general elections.
Addressing journalists in Harare yesterday, Zec chairperson Priscilla Chigumba said political parties had no choice, but to participate in the July 30 polls and raise their complaints later as the election date cannot be changed. Chigumba said her commission had started running copies of the voters’ roll for the successfully-nominated candidates, adding that complaints related to data on the voters’ roll would only be raised after the elections.
“Whether the candidates scrutinise the voters’ roll, whether they see any anomalies in it, whatever the anomalies are, whatever legal recourse they have will not stop an election. I want that to be very clear, nothing stops the election,” she said.
“Let me put the law into perspective, first thing to take note is once the President has proclaimed the election date, there is nothing short of an earthquake that can stop the election.”
Opposition parties have since last month been piling pressure on Zec to release a physical copy of the voters’ roll so they could check if voters’ details were properly captured to minimise the number of turned away voters on election day. Chigumba said the public would only access the voters’ roll 48 hours after it has been released to the nominated candidates, following which the roll will then be gazetted.
“If there are 3 000 councillors, on the day of gazetting, each councillor should get a free copy at our expense, Members of Parliament each should get a copy. So you can get an idea of the numbers of copies we are currently running. After the gazetting and having provided all of our candidates with these copies the 48-hour rule should kick in ordinarily bearing unforeseen things like lack of Zesa in our provinces, but we do print these voters’ roll here at the head office,” she said.
MDC Alliance spokesperson Welshman Ncube said Chigumba’s remarks confirmed opposition fears that the elections would not be free and fair.
“We have always said that Zec was not ready for the elections,” he said.
“(President) Emmerson (Mnangagwa) could not have proclaimed the election date before the roll was ready. If there is no final voters’ roll, then the election was called prematurely. We cannot have a situation that after four or five days after nomination, the voters’ roll is not out.
“There is nowhere in the world, even in a Banana republic you can have that. As for Chigumba to give us lessons on legal remedies, she is not the ideal person. Anything can be challenged as long as it violates the Constitution,” he said.
Observers have often accused Zec of deliberately delaying the release of the voters’ roll to deny opposition parties an opportunity to scrutinise it ahead of the polls.
Electoral Resource Centre director Tawanda Chimhini said: “For lack of a better word, it is very tragic. If Zec is preparing for an election, it should prepare for a free and fair election, not one that will be challenged. “Refusing to share details on the voters’ roll, refusing inspection of the voters’ roll so that people can give feedback is an admission that Zec does not want any form of oversight and accountability. It shows the election commission is not ready and serious about running national elections.
He added: “How can they prepare to go for an election that will be contested? What is the rush? What type of an election are they preparing to run? “We went to court and obtained a court order for them to release the voters’ roll used for inspection, but Zec has defied a court order because it wants to run an election without accountability.
“An election should not be an election for the sake of an election. The dispute surrounding the 2013 polls was pertaining to the voters’ roll and we are repeating the same mistake. If they can tell us today that this is the final voters’ roll without having been inspected; then they can as well tell us that this would be the final results and we have nothing to do about it.”
Zimbabwe has had a bad record of handling electoral issues, with some cases spilling into the next election calendar before being resolved by the courts.
Founding MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai died in February this year, with his 2002 election petition against former President Robert Mugabe’s victory still to be resolved by the courts. Last week, the Nelson Chamisa-led MDC Alliance accused Zec of deliberately delaying the release of the voters’ roll as a ploy to disenfranchise opposition candidates and their supporters on polling day.
At the weekend, British ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing took to Twitter, urging Zec to release the voters’ roll urgently. “@UKinZimbabwe have spoken to a number of candidates today, none of whom has been given a copy of the voters’ roll. This is very disappointing – the roll is an exceptionally important part of this election. @ZECzim must issue roll urgently to ensure #freeandfairelections,” Laing’s tweet read.
Laing, who will be leaving Zimbabwe in November following her re-assignment to Nigeria, yesterday said Zimbabwe’s economic potential depended on its ability to hold free and fair elections. She said the UK government was keen to support Zimbabwe reclaim its position in the economic, democractic and human rights spheres.