THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) yesterday admitted that it had deprived thousands of prospective first-time voters an opportunity to participate in the upcoming by-elections after it failed to provide adequate and accessible registration centres throughout the country.
Zec has already closed the voters’ roll for the by-elections slated for March 26 this year.
The electoral management body has been in the eye of a storm over the past few weeks after it gave two different figures regarding the number of first-time voters it registered last year.
Initially, it said only 2 000 had registered as first-time voters throughout the year, but later revised the figure to 2 951.
Zec courted the ire of civic groups after it initially indicated that 22 000 deceased voters would be removed from the voters’ roll, before bumping up the figure to 35 085.
Zec spokesperson Joyce Kazembe yesterday told NewsDay that the electoral management body had realised that several people failed to register to vote due to inaccessibility of its 72 district centres.
She said as the country prepared for the 2023 general elections, Zec would roll out 9 000 biometric voter registration kits to ensure that people travel short distances to registration centres.
“We know that there are some who stay far from the district offices who may not be able to easily access the registration centres, but for now, we are abiding by the law. But we are sorry. We apologise.
“However, the registration process is still ongoing for other elections other than the by-elections. We have 9 000 biometric voters’ registration kits that we will roll out throughout the country to ensure complete accessibility of the registration service.”
But civic society groups and rights lawyers accused Zec of deliberately minimising access to the voter registration centres to frustrate potential first-time voters being mobilised by various groups.
Constitutional lawyer Lovemore Madhuku said some provisions of the Electoral Act also deprived a significant number of people of the opportunity to vote; hence the need to amend the legislation.
“Centralisation of the registration centres could have deprived people of their right to vote, but they need to amend the Electoral Act for it to enhance continuous registration processes and afford every citizen the opportunity to vote,” Madhuku said.
“The Act states that the voters’ roll closes when the local authority vacancy arises, but would the electorate know that very well? In this election, an individual may be able to vote for the National Assembly member, but fail to vote for the councillor. There are some citizens who develop the interest to vote only when there is a proclamation. Every reasonable democracy allows them to vote. There is also a need for training of civic society on the key constitutional dictates of the electoral process so that they provide the necessary essential information to the people,” he added.w
Zimbabwe Election Support Network chairperson Andrew Makoni said a number of citizens had failed to register to vote because Zec was not providing adequate information to encourage people to vote.
“Most of the Zec registration centres were closed for the greater part of last year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and citizens failed to register. Given the low number of new people who are said to have registered to vote last year, it appears as if the voting rights are entitled to those who participated in the 2018 general elections. Of concern is the difficulty in accessing national identity documents which has barred a number of citizens from registering to vote,” Makoni said.
Women’s Academy for Leadership Excellence executive director Stabile Dewa said: “Zec suspended the mobile voter registration blitz that had been slated for December 6, 2021. Many people, especially first-time voters would have gotten an opportunity to register and vote in the upcoming by-elections if it had not suspended the blitz. Considering the current economic challenges, citizens, especially women, have little money to spare for transport costs for them to travel and register to vote.”
Rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama added: “The right to vote is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution. Zec violated such right and breached the dictates of some international treaties that Zimbabwe is signatory to. That cannot be corrected by a mere apology. There has always been opaqueness on how Zec conducts its elections resulting in lack of transparency, and credibility of its conduct.”