By Farayi Machamire
The Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) is on a collision course with President Robert Mugabe after he unilaterally proclaimed voter registration dates at a time the electoral body is apparently ill-prepared for such a mammoth exercise.
Giving notice in the Government Gazette published on Friday, Mugabe said voter registration will commence tomorrow, running up to January 15, 2018.
Mugabe, who was endorsed at his party’s 2014 congress to run as Zanu PF’s presidential candidate in the 2018 polls, said he arrived at the decision with advice from the commission.
His proclamation implies a total cut-off date for registration on the new rolls even though the Electoral Act provides for continuous registration until 12 days after nomination day.
But Zec, which is working towards registering at least seven million voters under the biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise, appeared to distance itself from Mugabe’s proclamation, yesterday.
Choosing her words carefully, Zec chairperson Rita Makarau, said the president only sought to give legal validity to the creation of the new voter’s roll as the commission was still unprepared to commence voter registration as the bulk of the BVR kits have still not arrived.
Zec had revealed last week that it had taken delivery of the first batch of BVR kits, numbering 400, from the Hong Kong-based supplier, the Laxton Group. The rest of the kits, 2 600 of them, are expected to arrive in the country in a few weeks’ time.
The training of trainers started on September 4 and was expected to have been concluded in the same week to pave way for the decentralisation of the training to provinces.
Another of the commission’s challenges is the issue of resources. Zec would require about $274 million to hold the 2018 synchronised polls in which Mugabe will be seeking to run for an eighth term.
Observers doubt if Zec would be able to get the funding in view of the budgetary constraints blighting Treasury.
Far from the cut-off date for voter registration provided by Mugabe’s proclamation, Zec was adamant yesterday that they will continue to register voters until 12 days after the nomination court sits, in line with the Electoral Act.
“We advised the president on that proclamation and there is no variance (with our state of preparedness),” Makarau said.
“We are commencing voter registration on September 14 (as proclaimed by Mugabe) but the intensive one will start in mid October when we have received the rest of the kits (and when we have trained the officials who will use them),” she said.
Makarau insisted that both continuous voter registration and the blitz voter registration would be done through BVR.
Following Mugabe’s proclamation on Friday, an entirely new voters’ roll must be prepared for the 2018 general election.
While his proclamation does not mention BVR, Zec says this would be the method of registration for the new voters’ roll.
What this means is that everyone who wants to vote in the 2018 elections would have to get themselves registered on a new roll.
Voters who are registered on an existing voters’ roll used in the 2013 polls will have to apply for re-registration on a new roll.
As the law now stands, this entails proving their identity to a voter registration officer, though they will not have to prove citizenship or provide proof of residence.
They will, however, be expected to allow their biometric particulars to be recorded.
New voters, that is, people who are not already registered, will also have to apply for registration on a new roll. They will have to provide proof of their identity, their citizenship and their residence.
They too will have to allow their biometric particulars to be recorded.
Poll watchdog, the Election Resource Centre (ERC), wrote to Zec yesterday saying if it was true that they are beginning voter registration in October, then they would like a copy of the 2013 voters’ roll to be made available.
ERC’s executive director, Tawanda Chimhini, said the only way of checking whether those who claim to be already on a voters’ roll and produce their proof of identity is by checking them against the existing voters’ roll.
“But Zec has denied they have the complete existing rolls. If they now have the (Tobaiwa) Mudede roll then we would like to see it,” Chimhini said.
Mudede is the country’s Registrar General.
Asked if Zec has the 2013 voters’ roll, Makarau laughed before saying: “No we don’t have it. We are starting a new voters’ roll. I hope no one will want to be on the old one.”
By starting on the training exercise, Makarau said Zec was showing Zimbabweans that there was no turning back.
“We have started now on the road to biometric voter registration. The training exercise will last until Friday (yesterday). We are going to train master trainers who are going to train BVR kit operators,” she said on Monday.
“We are also going to train technicians who will give support on the field in the event of kits perhaps requiring minor repairs in the event that the kits jam, they will be on site to render that kind of support to the biometric voter registration kit operators whom we are going to deploy countrywide.”
The country’s largest opposition party, the MDC, yesterday said Zec and Mugabe were not singing from the same hymn sheet, thus putting the public in an awkward place.
MDC spokesperson, Obert Gutu, said the mixed signals show how confusing the whole setup is because, at the end of the day, it is Zec which should be in the fore front of the preparations.
“But from the president’s proclamation you can see that it’s a game where players just want to come from their homes and straight onto the pitch without warming up,” observed Gutu.
“It’s obvious that Mugabe has a sinister agenda, which he is pushing and trying to put undue influence on Zec. You don’t have to be rocket scientist to see that. So now Zec is at pains to tally their projections with what Mugabe proclaimed. You could see that Makarau was at pains to be seen towing Mugabe’s line. You can almost feel the undue pressure,” he added.
Constitutional law expert, Alex Magaisa, said Mugabe could only have made the voter registration proclamation on Zec’s call.
“Why make a call when they aren’t ready? Zec will do an empty launch on Thursday. Legally, voter registration will have begun but in reality there will be no real registration going on,” Magaisa wrote on Micro blogging site Twitter.
“When observers come a few weeks before elections, they will gullibly report that voter registration started on September 14, 2017. It’s a farce. Zec must not hoodwink the nation; pretending voter registration is starting on Thursday when they know too well that this is not the case.
“Zec must be honest with the people. The resources for voter registration aren’t there yet and process can’t start now…But Zec bends to the will of the Zanu PF. It’s trying to fit into Zanu PF’s election programme instead of actually setting the pace. It’s farcical for an elections body to claim voter registration will start when it knows it doesn’t have the relevant equipment, material and skills,” opined Magaisa.
University of Zimbabwe law lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said he could not put his finger around how Zec as the chief advisor on election procedures could misinform the president to make the decision he made.
Masunungure could not rule out the possibility of Zanu PF pushing for early polls in an attempt to catch their rivals’ cold.
“The idea of ambushing is well known strategy that Zanu PF uses and has historically used in order to catch its opponents off guard in the confusion. Whether it’s a genuine mistake or sinister motives behind that mistake, it’s a glaring and unusual from Zec.
“Some may read that they may be mischievous intentions. We are happy anyway that Zec has clarified but (the) damage has been done in terms of the tarnishing the image of those who make the decisions,” he said. Daily News